Protecting Seattle’s Workers

Jenny’s Affordable Seattle Agenda

As mayor, Jenny will defend and expand the rights of workers.

To honor Labor Day and Seatte’s workers, Jenny announced her priorities to defend and expand the rights of workers as well as create a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights as mayor.

On this Labor Day, we celebrate the accomplishments of workers and a strong and vibrant labor movement in Seattle. Unions have been the best pathway for workers to enter the middle class, and without the strength of unions most of wouldn’t have weekends, overtime pay, workers compensation, sick leave, and other benefits we take for granted. Unions have been a way for workers to exercise their collective power to craft and insist upon a more just economy. Seattle’s labor movement has been an inspiration to the nation, leading the way in the Fight for $15, and in doing so helped raise wages for millions of workers across the country.

At the same time as we’ve enjoyed successes in Seattle, there has been a nationwide generation-long assault on unions by extreme forces that want to roll back protections and undermine the collective power of workers. This assault has led to a sharp decline in the bargaining power of workers. Union membership in the private sector has dipped below seven. percent. As mayor, I will defend and expand the rights of workers. My policy priorities include:

  1. Being a good bargaining partner with the unions representing the city’s 10,000 employees, including supporting their right to maintain strong unions in the face of attacks from the courts. By being smart and treating our workforce right, we also do better at delivering the services that the city deserves.
  2. Fully-funding the Office of Labor Standards and community outreach and education programs to workers and employers to ensure our labor standards are being followed.
  3. Enforcing the prevailing wage.
  4. Protecting the rights of workers to organize, with all tools at my disposal.

But I have made clear that protecting the right of workers to form unions and collectively-bargain is only the baseline. In this changing economy, particularly in the growing “gig” economy, we must find new ways to protect workers’ and their futures. We must not just be thinking about how we provide wages and benefits today in a fluid marketplace, we must be thinking about what those workers and their families will have decades from now. Working with labor, business, community leaders and experts, I will propose policies that make Seattle a leading laboratory of democracy where new forms of worker organization are explored and prototyped.

There are many workers that are legally excluded from the right to form a union under federal law, and many more than have no realistic path to forming a union. For these workers – such as domestic workers, temp workers, gig workers, subcontracted workers, and others – there are a significant number of emerging strategies for building worker organizations that aren’t preempted by federal law. These strategies range from empowering worker organizations to be benefits providers in the on-demand economy, to sector-specific bargaining over minimum standards, to enforcement and certification strategies, to leveraging workforce training and job placement, to incentivizing employee ownership.

One often overlooked and under protected group of workers are domestic workers. Responsible employers treat them well; many see and treat them like family. But many do not. When I was US Attorney, we saw all too often how domestic workers were all too often exploited.

Domestic workers — who are usually women and who are disproportionately immigrants and people of color — have been marginalized and left out of worker protections for decades, including being excluded from our nation’s labor laws in the 1930’s. Other cities and regions, notably Massachusetts, have enacted protections for these workers. Washington state and Seattle should lead on this issue. I have said that if I am Mayor, we will lead and implement a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. As we approach Labor Day, it is important to make clear what that means. I would work to have these protections implemented at the state level. But we will act locally.

Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

Through the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights my administration would:

  • Bring stakeholders — including worker organizations, advocates, employers, and placement agencies — together to establish a permanent mechanism for setting minimum standards of pay and benefits in the domestic work industry. The mechanism could be similar in purpose to Wage Boards that exist in other jurisdictions.
  • Work with the stakeholders to establish a mechanism for providing employment benefits, such as workers compensation and health insurance to domestic workers.
  • Guarantee domestic workers overtime pay, breaks, tax withholding, and rest periods.
  • Provide outreach, education, and enforcement in the languages that the workers speak in order to fully protect these rights.
  • Offer incentives or assistance to high-road individual employers or agencies that comply with the Bill of Rights

Protections for Gig Economy Workers

Protecting workers is increasingly challenging in the new economy. It is up to the leadership at City Hall to anticipate these issues BEFORE innovation kills jobs. We can do better as a city to improve the employment rights and benefits of “gig” workers. I will partner with worker organizations and bring the right employers to the table to explore, design and implement pilot programs for gig economy workers here in Seattle, including:

  • Defending the right of drivers and other gig economy workers to collectively bargain.
  • Establishing the means for workers across the gig economy or sectors of the gig economy to have a voice through mechanisms like wage boards or sectoral bargaining.
  • Considering ways to incentivize or require pro-rated portable benefits for workers in the gig economy.
  • Consider ways to build retirement savings for workers in the gig economy

 — Jenny Durkan