Business Community to City of Seattle: Work with Us

Chamber President Maud Daudon calls on the mayor and the City Council to collaborate more closely with employers.
 
 

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has long been a true partner to the region. We’ve supported and put muscle behind many key initiatives to make our region an economically vibrant place where everyone has the opportunity to succeed and to access a thriving quality of life. Whether it is supporting transit expansion, a major investment in the city’s transportation infrastructure, endorsing the affordable housing plan (HALA) and its related housing levy, or getting behind school levies, the business community has been there to the tune of over $4 billion. These are sound investments and it has been the right thing to do. 

It is in this context that we urge Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council to respond by showing that they are a true partner to those of us who create jobs and run businesses. Over the past few years, the City Council has implemented a significant list of new laws that affect business, 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.

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. The business community is part of the solution — not the problem. 

Here are some critical facts that are important to the conversation: 

  • Businesses have a longstanding history of stepping up and investing in what is best for the city.
  • Businesses generate 50 percent of the tax revenue for the city of Seattle.
  • Businesses have supported $4 billion in new local investments over the past two years. 

Here are three key ways employers can get involved: 

1. Make the case that new taxes on business are not necessary for a $2 million increase in labor law enforcement. As I recently said to Crosscut, “This is kind of a nickel-and-diming approach to say for an increase of a little over $2 million we need a new tax. To me, that’s not strategic.” Since 2014, the Chamber and our members have supported $4 billion in new local investments that address our region’s most pressing problems. Businesses already generate 50 percent of the tax revenue for the city of Seattle. 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.  

2. Advocate for a fair share of funding for educating employers on Seattle’s labor laws. Employers in Seattle are navigating four labor laws, and data show that they want to comply. Employers have made 75 percent of the inquiries recorded by the Office of Labor Standards (OLS) since the city’s four labor standards laws have been implemented. Despite that, less than 25 percent of the available grant funding is for educating employers. While the funding to educate employees was provided several months ago, and employees have the knowledge and legal advocates they need, funding to help employers is still months away from being issued. This doesn’t make sense, and it keeps employers from getting the outreach they need to know the rules. Currently, it takes an average of 192 days to resolve an investigation. Making sure employers have the information they need to comply up front will save OLS time and resources, and help workers get their compensation and benefits from the start. Send an email to Mayor Murray and your Seattle City Council members and share why a 50/50 split is a better solution. 

3. Share your insights on shift worker scheduling. The Seattle City Council has started exploring legislation that would restrict how employers schedule their shift workers. We are closely monitoring the process, and have consistently shared the message that Seattle must proceed thoughtfully. Scheduling is highly complex and a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach will create more problems for employees. Furthermore, many businesses already have processes in place to directly meet the expectations of their employees. 

Our business community is incredibly committed to doing our part to build an economically vibrant and globally competitive Seattle region where everyone has the opportunity to succeed and to access a thriving quality of life. We urge Mayor Murray and the Seattle City Council to work with us on a thoughtful path forward. 

MAUD DAUDON is president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Executive Q+A: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

Executive Q+A: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

He wants the city's strong-mayor system to have a more robust organizational structure.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
Under Ed Murray, Seattle has become recognized nationally for promoting progressive policies like the $15 minimum wage, but he also sees the need for more centralization in the mayor’s office to implement better controls over the city’s large bureaucracy.
 
EARLY YEARS: My father was a logger. Two of my uncles died in logging accidents. Later, Dad worked for Bethlehem Steel. He went to business school and ended up on the business side of the Port Blakely Companies and finally worked at the state Department of Natural Resources. As a large Catholic family, we sometimes struggled financially. I had paper routes, washed dishes and even picked blueberries — a job I hated — for clothes and to pay for dental work. In college, I worked full time so I could get insurance.
 
POLITICS: I’ve wanted to be in politics since I was 5, when John F. Kennedy was running for president. There was so much excitement. We stayed up later [on election night] and in the morning, we ran into my parents’ room and jumped on the bed to find out who was elected. There is this natural interest in politics among the Irish in America. I have cousins who’ve been elected mayor in the New Jersey and New York areas.
 
DRIVE: When you grow up where food doesn’t come easy, it’s almost a double fear that you will end up destitute. When you have opportunities like I’ve had in life, you absolutely want to spend every moment making it work. I’m driven and I look for people who are driven. At times, I’ve had to dial back the way I drive others. 
 
MAYOR’S OFFICE: This city has a strong-mayor system. Unlike in Boston or New York, I don’t have to [get city council approval] to raise the minimum wage or do a [child care] program. But we have a fairly small mayor’s office compared to other large cities. I’m responsible for 14,000 city employees in 28 different departments, including Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, but I have little ability to do independent oversight. We don’t have the controls that the governor’s office has with the Office of Financial Management. For the day-to-day administration, we need another level of centralization so, for example, we can build projects on time and on budget. We’re looking at ways to use statistics to measure performance. How do we monitor construction in real time to catch problems early?
 
BIG CITY: In my first two years in office, Seattle went from the 20th to the 18th largest city [in the United States]. That [growth] creates challenges. I’ve brought in some of the most innovative people in the country to work in the mayor’s office, to be directors of departments to take us to that next level. I focused on folks who’ve come from big cities because we don’t have a lot of depth when it comes to big cities.
 
PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT: The fact that we have been able to pass five ballot measures in two years to really catch this city up on transportation, parks and bus service. Maybe our pre-K [early learning] program will be, in the end, the most significant. If we get this right, we will radically change the outcome for those young people.
 
BUSINESS REGULATION: I worry about the impacts on the smallest businesses in the city. In a city that is rapidly changing, their situation is the most precarious. We need to do a better job on how we engage and assist them. That’s why I brought in Brian Surratt as director of the Office of Economic Development. But many of the things we have done, we have done with with business. Business was there on pre-K and transportation. If we don’t have a transit system that works, business doesn’t work. Even on minimum wage, business is not happy, but we created a model of phasing it in that has become a model around the country. With the housing levy, developers for the first time agreed with low-income-housing advocates to accept a requirement to build or pay for affordable housing in exchange for increased density in our urban villages. This has been a collaborative process. I do worry at times that some on the council don’t understand that most businesses operate on the margin. I do worry that there could be a piling-on effect without understanding the full implications of that. But business needs to do a better job of articulating what they want and not simply what they are against.
 
BUDGET: We have to be really sensitive to levy fatigue because we have a really regressive tax system that leaves us few choices other than property taxes. Having said that, the housing levy did pass by 70 percent. That was the fifth levy I had sent out in two years. I do need to add that Seattle’s tax burden is less than some of our suburban cities. Still, there are real risks here. On every budget speech I give, I remind the council that a lot of increased revenue we have received is off of construction that will ultimately slow down. We are keeping a high reserve to prepare for worse times.  
 
HOMELESSNESS: The first year I was in office was the last year of the 10-year plan to end homelessness. The city identified and built every unit it said it needed to end homelessness and yet the problem is worse. We need to be innovative about finding new ways to deal with homelessness. But the myth that Seattle can solve this problem hurts the homeless. Seattleites are pointing at each other for a problem that only the nation and state can help us solve. We’ve stepped up big time, but there is this issue of income inequality, and the massive heroin epidemic in this country while the government is retreating from its responsibilities. We are number 47 in what we spend on mental illness in this state. What disappoints me is the folks in Seattle don’t realize that towns up and down the West Coast all have homeless crises. That’s an area I have to own a failure — not being able to create a dialogue to create a bigger movement.
 
TAKE 5: GET TO KNOW ED MURRAY
 
HERO: “When I was 13 or 14 and Wes Uhlman was elected mayor at 34, I read an article in the Seattle P-I that showed a picture of him on the balcony of the old City Hall. That’s when I wanted to be mayor.
 
FAVORITE VACATION: Visiting the Washington coast with his husband, Michael Shiosaki.
 
A LIFE IN POLITICS: Murray once confided to reporter Joel Connelly: “In 18 years, I have never been on a vacation where we haven’t been interrupted by some legislative crisis or some controversy in the media.”
 
TRUTH TELLER. “The biggest myth is that we have a large tax burden. We are the 18th-largest city [in the country], but in terms of tax burden, we are something like the 50th.”
 
GO, PILOTS. Murray was born in Aberdeen in 1955 and grew up in West Seattle and Lacey. He has a sociology degree from the University of Portland.
 
EXECUTIVE Q+A RESPONSES HAVE BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED.