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Seattle Still Searching For The Right Person To Lead Labor Standards Office

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
Protesters marching in downtown Seattle in August 2013 to push for a $15/hour minimum wage

Seattle minimum-wage workers at large businesses should now be earning $11 an hour, and workers at smaller businesses should earn at least $10 an hour, plus an extra dollar an hour in either tips or health benefits.

But the city is still searching for the right person to head the office in charge of enforcing that law. 

Seattle’s ordinance that phases in a $15-an-hour minimum wage has won national attention and even praise from the Secretary of Labor.

But Patricia Lally, who heads the city’s Office for Civil Rights, which has overseen the creation of the new Office of Labor Standards, says it’s been hard to find the right permanent director because Seattle’s doing something new.

"There are not very many cities across the United States who have a labor standards office and when we wrote the description for the division director we really were creating a division director description that cannot be found online or in other jurisdictions," Lally told the Seattle City Council.

Lally says the city is using a recruitment firm to conduct a national search. She says the city is moving forward with hiring investigators for the office as well as a community liaison and should have those jobs filled by early May. 

Immigrant Communities

Council members also expressed concern about how the city is informing minority and immigrant communities about the higher wage.

Lally says making sure information is available in multiple languages is a top priority.

“We have our English notices for employers to use online, we have a Spanish notice also online and we’re now going to the most-used languages and those are being translated as we speak," she said.

The city is publicizing the higher minimum wage on Spanish-language radio and in newspapers such as Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Times. And city officials say they’ve met with everyone from the Filipino Chamber of Commerce to East African leaders in an effort to spread the word. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.