Seattle’s much-hyped new minimum-wage law takes effect Wednesday, but the city agency created to supervise the law isn’t fully staffed and has yet to hire a director.

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Seattle’s much-hyped new minimum-wage law takes effect Wednesday, but the city agency created to supervise the law isn’t fully staffed and has yet to hire a director.

Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council last November budgeted $1,168,000 for the new Office of Labor Standards (OLS), part of the existing Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

The money is supposed to fund seven employees, outreach to workers and managers, and enforcement of the new minimum-wage ordinance and three other labor laws.

When he first proposed the new agency last September, Murray said Seattle had “captured the nation’s attention with its progressive policies on wages and benefits.

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“Now we must educate our workers and businesses on how to comply with these new workplace standards. And when necessary, we must be ready to investigate complaints and enforce the law,” he said.

Officials have made just one outside hire, however, filling the position of OLS lead investigator. They’re having an Office of Civil Rights investigator pinch-hit as OLS business liaison while the actual business liaison serves as interim director.

The hiring process for three OLS investigator positions has yet to begin, and the city is still taking applications for the role of permanent director. An OLS community liaison may be hired soon.

Crosscut first reported on the staffing lag.

OCR Director Patricia Lally, in charge of setting up the new agency within her own, said Tuesday her search for a leader is on track.

“We could have raced to hire a director … but that would have been the wrong thing to do,” Lally said. “It was more important for us to identify stakeholders from the labor community and the business community and ask them to help us find the right person. And believe it or not, these steps take time.”

“We also wanted to make sure we conducted an expansive search,” she added. “I could have posted the position on Seattle.gov and we would have attracted a small pool of candidates. But we hired a talent-acquisition company to help us get the word out, to create the appropriate job advertisements … and that has taken longer.”

City Councilmember Nick Licata, who worked with Murray to create the OLS, was more critical. The city hasn’t taken his advice to publicize the minimum-wage law on Univision, the Spanish-language television network, and it only began publicizing the ordinance on Metro buses this week, Licata noted. The company hired to help officials find an OLS director has been advertising on Craigslist.

“That’s pretty low-level assistance,” he said. “The rollout, for whatever reason, has been slow, too slow.”

He said the real test will be whether OLS ultimately enforces the city’s laws aggressively. “I don’t think there’s any deliberate delay going on. I think it’s more a question of just it being too tight of a timeline for them to deal with.”

The city is ready for the new law, Lally insisted. OCR staffers who deal with civil-rights complaints are trained to handle labor-law issues and will pitch in, she said.

To educate employers and employees, the OLS sent nearly 50,000 postcards to businesses and ran print and radio ads with ethnic media, a spokesman said, noting that the ordinance has a dedicated city website.

The OLS will take complaints and questions at 206-684-4500 or by email at ocr_intake@seattle.gov.

Sage Wilson, spokesman for Working Washington, an advocacy organization funded by the Service Employees International Union, said outreach is the city’s most important task right now because the law is somewhat confusing.

Working Washington and  the group  Code for Seattle released an app Tuesday that helps workers determine their appropriate wage now and over the next few years as the minimum increases to $15.

Starting Wednesday, large organizations in the city must pay their workers at least $11, while smaller businesses must pay either a flat hourly rate of $11, or $10 an hour with an additional $1 in tips or payments made to a qualifying medical-benefits plan.