Seattle Mandates $15 Per Hour Minimum Wage: But Is It Enforceable?

The American Northwest has quickly become a hot bed of progressive activism, especially with respect to labor law.

Earlier this summer, the city of Seattle adopted a $15 per hour minimum wage. It also became only the second city in the entire nation to create its own office just for enforcing labor standards by opening the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

But despite the optimism from city officials, like Mayor Ed Murray, some observers worry that Seattle’s government will have a hard time enforcing the $15 minimum wage. And even if the model in Seattle works, the questions remain:

•    Can other cities around the nation successfully adopt similar minimum wage protections?

•    Will other cities establish labor agencies to protect the rights of workers and negotiate fair agreements between labor and management?

In the wake of the action in Seattle, New York governor Andrew Cuomo — together with labor advocates and workers in New York City – has advocated aggressively to end to the so-called subminimum wage here in the Empire State. Delivery workers, service workers, restaurant workers and other employers sometimes earn just $5 per hour — well under the minimum wage. Approximately 70 percent of people who earn this subminimum wage are women, who already need to contend with a gender pay gap of around $0.83 to $1 in the Big Apple.

A July 2014 report published by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) says that doing away with the subminimum wage would help approximately 230,000 workers in New York City. NELP’s researchers also insist that the seven states that have mandated a full minimum wage for tipped workers have enjoyed excellent growth in their restaurant sectors. They are doing better than New York, in fact!

While it’s heartening to see labor advocates and politicians on both the West Coast and the East Coast advocating for fair wages and fighting for the rights of tipped workers, we are fully aware that many employers still subject their workers to unfair treatment, tip pool violations, FLSA violations, harassment, discrimination, retaliation and beyond.

Call the Joseph & Kirschenbaum team today at (212) 688-5640, or email us at info@jhllp.com for insight into how we can help you.