The hypocrisy of Seattle employers is stunning

This week the President of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to its members complaining about the City Council’s  work on secure scheduling legislation. Her argument is utter nonsense and for anyone who is paying attention is a poorly-executed attempt to obstruct the process entirely.

(Erica C. Barnett deserves full credit for breaking the story on the Chamber’s letter. If you’re not reading her stuff, you’re missing out)

After singing the praises of the Seattle business community, Chamber President Maud Daudon launches into her main complaint:

Over the past few years, the City Council has implemented a significant list of new laws – from an increasing minimum wage to paid sick leave and criminal background checks. Yet, as businesses attempt to adjust to these new rules and regulations, several additional taxes and policies are under consideration including: a “head tax” on businesses that would be used in large part to fund labor union and nonprofit outreach to encourage employee complaints; restrictive scheduling laws for shift workers; mandatory paid family leave for all private sector companies; commercial rent control; and an increase in other business taxes to fund additional police officers.

First of all, in her entire list the only one that a City Council committee has done any work on is secure scheduling — what she refers to as “restrictive scheduling laws for shift workers.” Which is a stretch given that to-date the Council has not even created a first draft of an ordinance yet — they are still gathering information. But we’ll come back to that.

It’s true that Mayor Murray announced an advisory group to look at ways to ensure affordable commercial real estate; his announcement didn’t mention commercial rent control, in favor of other approaches that he prefers, though when pressed he conceded that the advisory group might choose to look at rent control too. Moreover, the advisory group is made up of business owners, landlords, developers and advocates for business associations. So the Chamber’s members are well-represented — if not the entirety of the advisory board’s members — and at worst this is a battle between different factions of business owners, one which the Chamber of Commerce has done nothing to avert or mediate despite claiming to represent all of them.

But let’s come back to secure scheduling and the city’s labor’s laws. Daudon complains that the Office of Labor Standards’ education efforts are 75% focused on workers and 25% focused on employers — but she claims that 75% of the calls to OLS are from employers so the department’s spending should be a 50/50 split between the two.

But the volume of calls is a poor determinant of where the education funds need to be spent. As we heard earlier this week, the City commissioned a study by UW professors on the impact of the minimum wage law, by far the biggest labor law change in recent history,  and they surveyed both employers and employees on their understanding of the law. Overall, most employers had accurate knowledge of the law:

perceived wage

On the other hand, employees’ knowledge was vague and poor:

worker awareness

Judging by that, more OLS education funds SHOULD be dedicated to the people who don’t have good information today.

But hey, if the Chamber wants the OLS to run more education programs for employers, that’s great. Except that the Chamber doesn’t want employers to pay for it:

The City is already working with a $1.1 billion general fund budget, and the investments we supported have relieved pressure on that budget. The general fund should be the first stop for addressing fundamental responsibilities of the city.

In other words, they want the city to cut funding for something else in order to pay for additional education programs for employers. The local SEIU chapter is calling their bluff on wanting more education programs for employers, submitting a voter initiative that would do just that through a 1-cent-per-employee-hour tax. The Chamber of course opposes this.

But the Chamber’s other complaint is where this really gets fun: that they do not have a voice in the deliberations over the secure scheduling legislation (and other ones where there aren’t even deliberations to participate in yet):

While most of these ideas come from a place of ensuring opportunity for our residents, proposals like these must be informed by a thoughtful, rational, data-driven process, and consider the collective impact on our economic competitiveness. Most importantly, business must have an equal seat at the table during these discussions, which means we have to speak forcefully as a team and we need to do it now. It is important for us, the business community, to convey that we are part of the solution—not the problem.

As I wrote earlier this week, Council members Herbold and Gonzalez, who have teamed up to drive the conversation around secure scheduling, have created a new process to ensure that both workers and employers have a voice. The Office of Labor Standards runs separate study groups with each, and every two weeks they are invited to the CRUEDA Committee’s meeting to report out on their discussions directly to City Council members.

Here’s the work groups’ first report-out session with the City Council.

CRUEDA secure scheduling stakeholders mtg

The employers not only had a literal “seat at the table,” they had three. An equal number to the workers.

employers3 employers2

And here’s the second meeting.

employers5

Two seats at the table, and they were free to bring more people to help them report out.

employers1

But the real problem, and the real hypocrisy, is that the employers’ participation in this process is half-hearted at best. So far, they have denied that secure scheduling is an issue in Seattle; they have employed misdirection implying that employees are the source of the problem because the majority of schedule change requests come from employees (without providing any context for those requests); and they are dragging their feet in their stakeholder group meetings to the point where they are significantly behind the workers’ group and will end up delaying the legislation through their inaction. For the Chamber of Commerce to be demanding an equal seat at the table when the Council has gone to lengths to give them one, and then proceed to squander it away, is the height of hypocrisy.

At the last committee meeting, Herbold and Gonzalez were concealing their frustrations with the lack of cooperation from the employers (Council member Sawant, other the other hand made no effort to conceal hers). But at this point if I were them I’d be hopping mad.

The business community, led by Daudon and the Chamber of Commerce, has badly misread the situation. They have a new City Council with members like Herbold and Gonzalez eager to listen to all sides and craft compromise legislation that accomplishes a goal without overstepping — a reasonable middle ground and a valuable counterpoint to Sawant’s worker-rights extremism. But the Chamber and the employers are alienating the very people they should be embracing, and in so doing are giving Sawant the opening she needs to drive public policy further left. The “cede no ground” approach isn’t working, and it will likely backfire on them. Let’s hope they figure that out before it’s too late.

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