Labor law clinic helps small businesses in the CID understand ever-changing labor laws.

By Bao Nguyen
December 13, 2017

Staff from Meaza Yalew, Gabriella Buono, and Scott Kennedy of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Tammy Deets (second from right) of Ethnic Business Coalition. Photo by Ethnic Seattle.

Meaza Yalew, Gabriella Buono, and Scott Kennedy of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Tammy Deets (second from right) of Ethnic Business Coalition. Photo by Ethnic Seattle.

One by one throughout the afternoon, business owners in the Chinatown International District trickled into the conference room at the back of Hing Hay Coworks. They were greeted with pastries, coffee, an array of informational flyers, and a smiling team of staff members from the Ethnic Business Coalition (EBC) and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. The two organizations had been working together to put on this clinic designed to help employers understand Seattle’s new labor laws coming into effect in 2018.

Different from a workshop, the clinic offered business owners one-on-one consulting sessions with a labor lawyer. Employers could ask questions specific to their operations and interpreters were on hand to make sure language was not a barrier. All in all, representatives from 12 businesses in the CID took advantage of the clinic and many more expressed interest in the service provided.

The clinic focused around new and updated laws from the Seattle Office of Labor Standards regarding the minimum wage, wage theft, fair employment, and paid sick time and safe time.

Informational flyers on labor laws

Informational flyers on labor laws. Photo by Ethnic Seattle.

Any business owner will readily explain the myriad difficulties of running even one operation. Besides the obvious challenges of making sure the business can serve customers and bring in revenue, there are many intangible hurdles to cross, many of which are in the form of regulations from various city agencies.

Regulations themselves are not the issue; they are there to help protect everyone: employers, staff, and consumers. What most consumers don’t know is that these regulations are constantly being revised or replaced. Every year, employers have to adjust to a new set of rules with inputs from all levels of government, from city to county to state to federal. It is no easy feat to keep up, especially for immigrant and minority small business owners, who already face unique challenges of their own.

As part of Ethnic Business Coalition’s mission to support and advocate for small businesses owned by immigrants and minorities, helping them understand and apply these laws is crucial work. The labor law clinic served 12 businesses in the area that day, a significant number given the limited resources available for outreach and the incredibly busy schedules these businesses owners keep. But many more could not attend because of the same reasons.

There remains much work to be done!