Lessons From The Emerald City: Does Seattle’s New Domestic Worker Standards Board Indicate A Move Towards European Industry-Wide Collective Bargaining?

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Seyfarth Synopsis: Seattle has long been at the forefront of progressive labor policies.  Take, for example, its 2014 Minimum Wage Ordinance, which made it the first major city in the nation to increase wages to $15 an hour.  Since then, dozens of other cities have followed suit.  The same story is true of Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance, which when passed in 2012, made Seattle only the third city in the nation to implement protected sick leave.  Paid sick leave has spread since that time to more than nine states and countless local municipalities.

Seattle now has a new “first” to add to its resume, one which should cause employers nationwide to pay attention given its track record.  On Monday, July 23, 2018, Seattle became the first city to pass a domestic workers “Bill of Rights,” which extends the protections of its minimum wage ordinance to domestic workers (including independent contractors) and sets standards for meal breaks and rest periods. Seattle now joins other states like New York, California, and Hawaii in implementing domestic workers Bill of Rights.

The Seattle ordinance also establishes a nine-member Domestic Workers Standards Board charged with creating and recommending legislation to the City Council on wage standards, benefits, and worker protections, among other topics.

This body appears to be a de facto “wage board” or bargaining panel, reminiscent of European collective bargaining.  Wage boards operate as industry-wide bargaining groups, setting key threshold terms and conditions of employment.  While prominent in Europe, these industry-wide groups stand in stark contrast to the employer-based collective bargaining model in the United States.

Recently, a number of progressive policy advocates have argued in favor of the creation of national wage boards for the United States, particularly given the decline of unionization in the private sector along with the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Janus.

Whether Seattle’s experiment predicts a national trend remains to be seen.  At a minimum, other cities with progressive labor policies, such as Portland, are likely to follow suit.  Regardless of whether these policies catch on in other municipalities or states, unions and pro-labor advocates hope to replicate the model on the federal level.  The National Domestic Workers Alliance has announced that it will propose a federal Bill of Rights similar to Seattle’s later this year.  Employers should stay tuned.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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