Chamber CEO: Labor Proposals Fail to Consider “Unintended Consequences”

maud-daudon-high-resolution-photoYesterday, I reported that the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is urging its members to challenge proposed new business taxes and potential new worker protections.

In a letter this week, Chamber president and CEO Maud Daudon said business needs to have “an equal seat at the table” during city discussions on proposals to impose “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.”

Earlier today, I broke the news that representatives of the Service Employees International Union filed an initiative with the city that would impose another tax–a $0.01 surcharge for every hour worked by employees in the city–to pay for labor law enforcement and outreach.

This morning, I talked to Daudon about the letter, which she said was intended merely to encourage the city to have “thoughtful conversations” and a “robust dialogue” with the business community before passing laws that might harm businesses.

“The pieces of legislation we’re looking at now are coming at us very quickly, without a lot of engagement,” Daudon says. “I was saying, let’s really look at these things and understand the intended and unintended consequences.”

One of the proposals Daudon says the city needs to study further is secure scheduling (the “restrictive scheduling laws” mentioned in the letter), which would require employers to provide more stable, predictable schedules to their employees, particularly part-time workers.

“We have done some research into how this is going in San Francisco,” which implemented its own version of secure scheduling in 2014, “and we’re hearing mixed reviews,” Daudon says. “The people who want part-time and flexible employment are finding it too restrictive.” Employees in the hospitality industry, for example, may need to work at a funeral or a Seahawks celebration at a moment’s notice, she says.

“We’re saying, let’s do our homework and let’s understand better what’s happening here in Seattle, and what challenges people are having, and how employers are working w their employees. … If you’re trying to address a problem, you need to know what kind of problem you’e trying to fix. Defining the problem is step one, and I don’t think it’s well defined at this stage.”

(Secure scheduling proponents would argue that the problem is clear: Employers are scheduling their workers erratically, without regard for their need for a steady paycheck or a good night’s sleep, and secure scheduling is an effort to fix that.)

I asked Daudon if the Chamber opposes efforts to require employers to provide paid family leave, including maternity leave. Employers are in best position of crafting those things with their employees–it’s not a one-size-fits-all prescription for all employees,” she says, pointing to the Chamber and Women’s Funding Alliance-led 100% Talent initiative, which provides guidelines for employers to voluntarily work toward gender equity, and its 31 “best practices,’ which include some form of paid family leave.

Finally, Daudon explains the Chamber’s opposition to the way the Office of Labor Standards spends its grant funding this way:  “Right now, 75 percent of the calls [to OLS] are coming from employers trying to figure out how to apply the laws, and the rest are coming from employees,” yet 75 percent of grant funding from the office pays for employee outreach and education.  “If you look at the data, it really ought to be 75-25 [employer-employee] but we think minimally, it ought to be 50-50.”

Daudon argues that the current split creates an imbalance of power that favors workers over bosses: “If you [primarily] educate the employee, then it’s kind of a game of gotcha, [especially] if you’re a small business person and you don’t have a robust legal or HR department that knows about these laws.”

But doesn’t the balance of power almost always favor businesses and the Chamber, which buys its “seat at the table” when it spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on mayoral and council races?

“I love that you’re think we’re at every table, but I have to kind of laugh at that,” Daudon says. “We certainly try to communicate with the city about what the unintended consequences could be for some of these things, but honestly, I think ]that could be a challenge in this [political[ environment.”

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