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U.S. House Committee visits Seattle to examine economic disparity

Members are visiting the Emerald City to explore how its labor laws can serve as a model for policies that can help reduce economic inequality.

SEATTLE — What does it take to reduce economic disparity? A Congressional committee wants to know, and is visiting Seattle this week to find some answers.

The bipartisan U.S. Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth has made stops in Ohio, Wisconsin, and California to meet with community leaders, academic experts, and workers who can shed light on what's working and what's not.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), a member of the committee, alongside other U.S. House representatives and Committee Chairman Jim Himes (D-CT), who helms the committee, spoke with local workers during a round table discussion at the Port of Seattle on Monday to kickoff their visit.

"I think you've seen that we have an incredible host of laws that have really lifted up the lives of working people," Jayapal said.

It's not difficult to detect signs of economic disparity in Seattle, a city that has seen housing prices skyrocket in recent years.

There is something Seattle has done right, according to speakers at Monday's panel, which invited local union workers to be part of the conversation.

Jayapal said Seattle has uniquely enacted worker protections over the past decade, including ensuring paid sick leave, establishing shift scheduling rules and increases in minimum wage, plus gig worker protections.

They are topics that panelist Trent Wu advocates for.

"We have a couple clean aces in our pocket," Wu said.

Wu is a member of UFCW 3000 and works at Metropolitan Market in West Seattle. Two years ago, he worked at Whole Foods. He is among the group coined "frontline workers" during the pandemic and has seen it all. Wu said Seattle's labor laws have helped workers.

"We have a strong economy, we have these social programs that don't relate to labor and then we have these strong labor laws. And that makes people want to move here and bring their skills here," Wu said.

At the panel, Wu and others got a rare chance to be in the same room as the policy makers who can help make a difference. Notably, at a time when Seattle has seen unprecedented growth.

"Just trying to make sure that our city is stable and part of doing so is making sure that people who work here, can afford to live here," Wu said.

The committee members will continue their discussions at their main field hearing on Tuesday, which includes a tour of Seattle's port and talking with shipbuilders and union workers.

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