Mayor Ed Murray signed history-making minimum wage legislation last year. Now someone has to enforce that law
Mayor Ed Murray signed history-making minimum wage legislation last year. Now someone has to enforce that law. City of Seattle

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Mayor Ed Murray will announce this morning that he's appointing former US Department of Labor adviser and Seattle native Dylan Orr to head up the city's new Office of Labor Standards, which is tasked with enforcing the city's new minimum wage. The appointment does not require city council approval; the job pays $118,000 a year.

According to the mayor's office, Orr spent five years at the DOL, including time as chief of staff for the Office of Disability Employment Policy, "where he served as principal strategic adviser to the Assistant Secretary of Labor, developed labor policies and oversaw a staff of more than 50" and "played an instrumental role in the development and implementation of historic labor policies and practices."

“Dylan has the right background and leadership experience to ensure the city meets its commitment to protecting workers and ensuring businesses comply with labor standards,” Murray said in a statement. “I’m confident he’ll be a strong and capable leader as we take the next steps forward in implementing the city’s minimum wage law.”

Orr was also the first openly transgender person appointed to any US presidential administration. He wrote about his experience for the New York Times' recent Transgender Today series.

Murray's appointment of Orr came as a surprise to some in the business and labor community who thought they had a say in who got hired for the job.

The Office of Labor Standards has been without a permanent director since the city's new minimum wage took effect on April 1. That office, which is housed in the city’s Office for Civil Rights, was created specifically to enforce not only the minimum wage but also other labor laws, including paid sick and safe leave and rules against wage theft.

Last month, a job-recruiting firm hired by the city passed along about 10 finalists to a dozen-member committee made up of labor, business, and nonprofit representatives to narrow down the pool. On April 24, according to Dave Freiboth, executive secretary of the Martin Luther King County Labor Council and a member of that committee, the group recommended four people they thought the mayor should hire. Then Freiboth heard the mayor would be appointing someone else.

Yesterday, Freiboth told The Stranger that “corrupts the whole public engagement process. It makes me wonder why we spent time trying to help out.”

Freiboth wasn't immediately available today to comment on Orr's appointment, but another labor source close to the process said today "most people in the labor movement who are paying attention think this is highly problematic... You need someone who knows how to enforce [labor laws]. We now have an OLS director who has no experience doing that and was picked out of the middle of the deck of cards."

The members of the committee signed a confidentiality agreement, so those I spoke with wouldn't say who their four finalists were, but this source said there were finalists who had specific enforcement experience.

"[Orr] seems like a genuinely nice guy, but he's been put in an impossible position now," the source said. "The constituencies he will need to do his work have very little faith in the process that got him there and the larger [Office for Civil Rights] is viewed widely as having no credibility on enforcement."

Mayoral spokesperson Viet Shelton confirmed Orr was not among the four finalists. Orr had applied for a different city job as a policy adviser and the mayor wanted to appoint him to the Office of Labor Standards instead because of his "outstanding résumé and professional experience."

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Freiboth said yesterday the mayor’s sidestep is concerning because the four finalists were “basically bipartisan recommendations,” supported by both labor and businesses as well as nonprofits represented on the committee. Both sides have “fears, real or imagined,” he said, about minimum wage enforcement—businesses worry a labor-focused Labor Standards director will crack down unnecessarily; labor worries a business-loyal director won't crack down enough—so finding agreement is essential, and the fact that they did find agreement (before the mayor ignored that agreement) is notable.

“Building trust between labor and nonprofits and the business community is important post-minimum wage,” Freiboth said. “With both paid sick leave and the minimum wage, the business community is seeing that it’s not as bad as they thought it was going to be, so if a segment of the business community is stepping up and saying, ‘Okay, let’s work together’ … I want to try to find that common ground.”

The mayor's office is promising Orr will be able to find that common ground, too. “Dylan is an energetic and enthusiastic public servant committed to ensuring opportunity for all Americans and creating a world where each person’s contribution is valued," US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said in the mayor's announcement. "He believes in outreach and building coalitions, and recognizes that we all succeed only when we all succeed."