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Seattle steps into the breach on worker protection

Seattle’s City Council has passed a measure that will ensure workers' schedules are predictable. It’s the latest in a series of low wage worker protections the council has passed. There’s been the $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave, and restrictions on criminal background checks.


We now have four measures. San Francisco has a dozen, so we’re not leading the pack for worker protections. But something’s happening here.

Robert Plotnick is a professor at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy. He’s been studying the impact of Seattle’s minimum wage.

Plotnick: “Behind all of it I think is the decline of the lower middle class. It creates unease, it creates, 'What can we do?' If living standards had been rising steadily like everybody else’s, we’d probably we having a different political discussion.”

Unions have been losing their power. The federal government hasn’t stepped up to improve worker protections.

Jacob Vigdor is a professor of public policy at the University of Washington. He says Seattle is taking worker protections upon itself.

Vigdor: “Getting them done at the local level. And the really big question: Do these things work at the local level?”

It’s not clear Seattle can succeed. A higher minimum wage, for example, would be more effective if it were national.

The other concern is that worker protections don’t address a major threat. Advances in technology are outmoding entire lines of work.

Vigdor: “In the long run, these jobs may be in trouble. But so long as they are still here, can we try our best to make sure that they are jobs that pay a decent wage, that offer people a chance to sort of make a living for themselves.”

And to prepare for the next wave of change.

In Seattle, I’m Carolyn Adolph, KUOW news.

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