Former OneAmerica Head Files Ethics Complaint Against Mayoral Candidate Bruce Harrell

By Erica C. Barnett

Rich Stolz, the former head of the immigrant rights group OneAmerica, has filed a formal complaint asking the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to investigate mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell’s actions as a council member to “discourage [an] investigation” by the city’s Office of Labor Standards into allegations of unpaid sick leave and wage theft brought against the Royal Esquire Club, the Black men’s social club that Harrell chairs.

As we’ve reported, Harrell called the OLS investigator looking into the case to ask for information about the investigation, mentioning that “he helped construct the Office of Labor Standards and would have to look in the future if any changes in funding need to be implemented,” according to the investigator. The club settled the complaint, which involved five women, for a total of just under $11,000 in June 2019.

Four months after the agreement was finalized, Harrell proposed spending $50,000 to survey businesses investigated by OLS, whose employees Harrell called “extremely unprofessional.” In pitching the business poll, Harrell said he had heard from many minority-owned small businesses that were “devastated” or even “forced to close” by enforcement actions over what he called “good-faith disputes” with workers, not “wage theft in the traditional sense.”

In his complaint, Stolz—a González supporter—alleges that Harrell “misused his official position to influence an Office of Labor Standards (‘OLS’) investigation into serious workplace violations at the Royal Esquire Club (‘REC’) when Councilmember Harrell was the Board Chairman. Councilmember Harrell’s misuse of public office included a threat to OLS, with the implication that if OLS did not conclude its investigation in a way that Councilmember Harrell approved, its funding would be in jeopardy.”

His current opponent for mayor, Lorena González, objected back then to what she called a “hit piece on OLS” with “a predetermined outcome,” saying that if someone had conducted a survey of all the people she had sued for labor law violations over the years, “I suspect that the results of that survey would resoundingly say that they hated me, and that… my clients’ claims were frivolous.”

In his complaint, Stolz—a González supporter—alleges that Harrell “misused his official position to influence an Office of Labor Standards (‘OLS’) investigation into serious workplace violations at the Royal Esquire Club (‘REC’) when Councilmember Harrell was the Board Chairman. Councilmember Harrell’s misuse of public office included a threat to OLS, with the implication that if OLS did not conclude its investigation in a way that Councilmember Harrell approved, its funding would be in jeopardy.”

The complaint includes a memo from OLS’ file on the wage theft investigation about an apparently awkward meeting between two OLS investigators and a representative of the club who complained about the investigation and informed them that Mayor Jenny Durkan supports the club and has called herself an “Esquirette.”

A spokesperson for the Ethics and Elections Commission told PubliCola the complaint “has been forwarded to the appropriate staff person for review but we have no other information at this time.”

Stolz said that his hope in filing the complaint “is that making this a public issue and a matter of public record will put Harrell (should he become Mayor) and other elected leaders on notice that this behavior isn’t acceptable.”

OLS is a fairly new agency, established in 2015 to implement city labor laws, including the minimum wage, paid sick and safe time, and laws against wage theft. “I (at the helm of OneAmerica) was involved in advocating for the creation of OLS, and we played an active role advocating for many of the labor protections that OLS is charged with enforcing,” Stolz said. “I feel strongly about protecting the OLS from this kind of behavior. I chose to move forward on filing the complaint, because I’m not personally affiliated with any organizations outside of the City that could be the object of retaliation should Harrell win election.”

Harrell’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the complaint; we’ll update this post if we hear back.

3 thoughts on “Former OneAmerica Head Files Ethics Complaint Against Mayoral Candidate Bruce Harrell”

  1. The Gonzalez campaign and her supporters grow more desperate by the minute. Meanwhile the increasingly irrelevant and racist sycophants at Publicola gasp for survival in a town that has turned against their candidates.

    1. What does that even mean? Both candidates are non-white, correct? They were racist against…who?

      Saying that reporting the news is “gasping for survival” is kind of melodramatic. Especially since a) it’s not over til it’s over (the way Sawant keeps winning) and b) if Gonzalez isn’t mayor…she’ll still be the head of the City Council. NTK will still defend cases through her own law firm; she has yet to lose a case. And Nikkita will work on those same amazing things they’ve been working on for years as Executive Director of Creative Justice and educator and public speaker….

      (Ann will figure out which office to run for next, Sara will try to see how to get out of the illegality of the Eco Blocks she’s placed around her business, and Bruce…maybe Bruce can do some PR shots somewhere besides in front of an encampment that is nowhere his neighborhood and manage to include a voice besides his own.)

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