City opens Office of Labor Standards

“Flagstaff’s minimum wage will increase to $10.50 per hour on July 1, 2017, are you ready?” says the message on fliers, posters and websites that will soon be visible throughout the city.

The message, and advice to contact the city’s Office of Labor Standards, are the work of James May, the Interim Labor Standards Manager. May, who was brought to the city on contract basis, has been tasked with the responsibility of educating businesses, nonprofit organizations and citizens about the increasing minimum wage.

May was brought on about a month ago, and since then he has traveled to Seattle, another city that has implemented its own minimum wage, as well as held meetings with stakeholders, including businesses and business groups.

James May is the interim labor standards manager for the City of Flagstaff

While in Seattle, May said he got a chance to see how the administrative hearing process and enforcement protocol looks in another city with an established system. He noted that Seattle is a much bigger city with some different challenges, he said.

“We met with the investigative and administrative staff, and they were a wealth of information for setting up the office,” he said.

So far, May said most of his time has been spent spreading information and resources to businesses and business groups.

“We thought it would be beneficial, not to just show up with the new law, but to provide assistance, especially to the business community, to help grow businesses and help operate businesses more efficiently,” May said.

So far, he has put together a list of existing resources for businesses, like technological assistance, workforce development help and other resources the business community might be able to use. All resources compiled are listed on the city’s website.

The office is also working with the city’s economic vitality department to assist businesses with the increasing wage, May said.

City spokeswoman Meg Roederer said the city is aiming to have a permanent replacement in office by that date.

The Office of Labor Standards was one of the required provisions of Proposition 414, which passed in November and created Flagstaff’s minimum wage increase schedule. In the proposition, the office is required to disseminate information as well as conduct investigations and enforcement if a complaint is made about an employer.

“When the office receives a complaint, it may review records regarding all employees at the employer’s worksite in order to protect the identity of any employee identified in the complaint and to determine whether a pattern of violations has occurred,” the law states in part. “The name of any employee identified in the complaint shall be kept confidential as long as possible.”

When the office is contacted regarding a business accused of being out of compliance with the law, May said the office will investigate if there appears to be enough supporting evidence submitted to indicate the business is breaking the law. Investigation could include communication with the business, communication with the complainant and an administrative hearing, May said.

The hope is that any issues involving the law can be resolved informally through communication, which May said in his research with other cities has shown to be effective. May said some business owners have expressed concern over the enforcement policy, and have worried they will be asked to turn over all of their finances to the city.

“It is not our intent to request any information beyond what we need to investigate the particular complaint,” May said.

The reporter can be reached at cvanek@azdailysun.com or 556-2249.