Mayor Ed Murray has appointed Seattle native Dylan Orr to direct the new Office of Labor Standards, a division of the Office of Civil Rights tasked with overseeing Seattle’s newly established minimum wage law, as well as three other labor ordinances Seattle has passed.
Murray announced Orr’s appointment May 29, citing his more than five years experience at the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., including two years as chief of staff for the Office of Disability Employment Policy. Orr’s experience there has prepared him for his new role in Seattle, Murray said.
“Dylan has the right background and leadership experience to ensure the city meets its commitment to protecting workers and ensuring businesses comply with labor standards,” Murray said.
Murray selected Orr even though he was not among four finalists a search team of 12 stakeholders forwarded to the mayor’s office. The search team included representatives from business, labor and social justice organizations. The decision rankled some members of the task force.
Viet Shelton, spokesperson for the mayor’s office, said that senior staff became aware of Orr’s resume and brought him in for an interview.
“He was of a particular professional background, was able to articulate what we would be able to do with the office and was a candidate of such exceptional quality that he ended up rising to the top,” Shelton said.
Orr said he was disappointed that his appointment was met with criticism.
“I’m certainly sorry that everyone is starting off with any bad taste in their mouth,” he said. “I don’t think any of that is going to last long, and it’s already dissipating as I get to know people and people get to know me.”
As head of the labor standards office, Orr will oversee four city ordinances: The city minimum wage, which was set at $10 or $11 per hour in April depending on the size of the employer and the payment structure; the city’s paid sick and safe time ordinance, which requires employers to provide workers with two weeks of sick leave each year; the city’s job assistance ordinance, which bars employers from automatically screening out employment candidates with criminal records; and the city’s wage-theft ordinance.
The office began its work this spring without a director in place. Its 2015 budget is $1.3 million, and it has a staff of seven, including Orr.
Orr was raised in Seattle and studied law at the University of Washington. He was the first openly transgender person to be appointed to the U.S. Department of Labor by any U.S. president. Orr will earn $118,000 annually.
Orr said he was eager to begin his work and is considering strategies for how to run the office. He is weighing how to handle complaint-based investigations and proactive enforcement. An employee can trigger a complaint-based investigation by notifying the Office of Labor Standards with a specific complaint; the office would launch proactive enforcement by pursuing investigations or educating employers without being notified by a worker, which helps ensure that employers are paying the minimum wage without risking retaliation against a whistle blower.
“It takes the individual out of the process,” Orr said. “The more we lean in that direction, the better we’ll be.”
Concilmember Nick Licata first proposed the creation of a labor enforcement office in 2014, following the passage of several city-based worker protection ordinances.
“Good legislation often gets passed, and unfortunately it often gets ignored or lost,” Licata said at a press conference in 2014 calling for the creation of the office.
Several city departments previously enforced Seattle’s employment laws: The Office of Civil Rights enforced paid sick leave, the criminal screening ban and employment discrimination laws; the Seattle Police Department investigated wage theft, and the Department of Finance and Administrative Services oversaw wage rules for city contractors.
Licata wanted Seattle to have an office similar to San Francisco’s Office of Labor Enforcement.
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors established its labor standards office in 2001 for a single purpose: to enforce a minimum wage for construction workers doing city work. In the beginning, it consisted of one manager and two investigators.
Today, the office, with 18 staff members, enforces 10 labor laws, including San Francisco’s city-based minimum wage and paid sick-leave laws.
Orr expects that the Seattle office could grow over time but said as he starts the job he is intensely focused on the existing scope of work.
“Right now, my focus is going to be on these four ordinances, which is already a lot to do,” he said.