Sound Progress

Research and insights from Puget Sound Sage.

Proposition 1 Gives City Government Broad Discretion in Enforcement of Living Wage Policy

What would it cost the City of SeaTac to implement Proposition 1? The debate over this question to date has been based on speculation, not the specifics of this initiative and the city of SeaTac. The real answer is as much or as little as the city chooses. It all comes down to their elected City Council.

Here’s why. Proposition 1 clearly states:

Complaints that any provision of this Chapter has been violated may also be presented to the City Attorney, who is hereby authorized to investigate and, if it deems appropriate, initiative legal or other action to remedy any violation of this chapter; however, the City Attorney is not obligated to expend any funds or resources in the pursuit of such a remedy. (7.45.100 A)

And in SeaTac, the City Attorney works for City Council.

Why would SeaTac choose not to “expend any funds or resources” on enforcement? First, Proposition 1 provides a clear and powerful route for workers who stand up for their rights – in county court. This is also known as “private right of action.” Proposition 1 states:

Any person claiming violation of this chapter may bring an action against an employer in King County Superior Court to enforce the provisions of this Chapter… (7.45.100 A)

Second, as a small city of 27,000 people, with a modest budget, it would be reasonable for City Council to protect taxpayer dollars by allowing court enforcement to be the primary route for enforcement. If Proposition 1 passes, it is likely that Council will take this issue up quickly and, with considerable input from voters, decide what their role will be in implementation.

In contrast, large cities with big budgets have taken a more active role. Seattle, with a population of over 600,000 and a massive budget, has adopted several workplace standards, including anti-discrimination laws, paid sick leave, and protection from wage theft provisions. With public support, City Council created an Office of Civil Rights, which is currently responsible for monitoring and compliance with many of Seattle’s workplace standards. This makes sense for a city with an estimated 540,000 jobs.

So what does Prop 1 require the city spend to implement Prop 1? Very little, as far as we can see. The City has to send out a letter every year to covered employers – which we estimate to be 72 – with a new wage, adjusted for inflation. (We do inflation adjusted calculations all the time – it takes about five minutes.)

The City also must prepare “auditing procedures,” in the event SeaTac officials decide to take a more active role in monitoring and enforcement. This could amount to a written memo from the City Attorney to Council. A few more provisions in the proposed law also spell out the powers the City has to monitor and ensure compliance. But, these are, again, conditioned by the discretionary power of the City to expend funds or not.

In the end, whether enforcement of Proposition 1 will cost SeaTac money depends entirely on City Council’s decision of what to do and when. Like Proposition 1 itself, this will, in turn, depend on the people that put Councilmembers into office – the voters.

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