The Seattle City Council passed a bill Monday afternoon that will require the city to increase renewed or renegotiated Human Services Department contracts to keep up with inflation.
Under the bill, contracts will rise with year-to-year changes in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers in the region, which tracks shifts in how much workers pay for various goods and services.
Human Services contracts make up over $120 million that the department pays annually to organizations that manage homeless shelters, food banks, health clinics and other community services.
The contract changes are estimated to cost the city $758,786 more than had previously been budgeted for 2020.
Kamaria Hightower, spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan, said that the mayor will sign the bill.
“The workers who are implementing some of the most critical programs in the city … should be compensated fairly,” Hightower said. “This also does not pay workers what they are worth — but it is an important step.”
Following public comments by service workers who spoke passionately in support of the policy, the bill passed unanimously (with Councilmember Mike O’Brien not in attendance). The result was met with applause and cheers from the audience, many of whom wore bright green scarves to indicate their support.
“What [human service workers] have been saying year after year is that their contracts are not reflecting the increased cost of living in this city,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, the bill sponsor
Councilmember O’Brien had expressed a similar sentiment, noting that Human Services contracts have become increasingly important as homelessness and income inequality have risen in Seattle. Yet sometimes, he said, contractors face the very issues they’re hired to handle.
“Workers who work in this industry — especially the front-line workers — are often making at or near minimum wage, and are both at risk of becoming homeless or in need of the very services they’re trying to provide to other community members,” O’Brien said. He added that many city workers already receive wage increases based on cost of living changes.
The bill cites a 24.5% increase in cost of living in the region over the past 10 years.
O’Brien said the bill would take away some flexibility in how the city can allocate funds, but it is worth it given the importance of the social services.
Making contract adjustments the default (rather than handling them on a budget-by-budget basis) will help service providers hire and retain talented staff as well as plan for the future better, said Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.
“City contracts do not keep up with the increasing cost of doing business in this rapidly growing, increasingly expensive city,” she said. “And there have been some years in which the human services organizations which provide a whole range of vital services for people in our city get no inflation adjustment.”
The council also passed an amendment to the bill that added nonbinding language encouraging contracted organizations to spend the annual adjustments on employee wages.