Washington retail around the state
By Renee Sunde, President/CEO
This week was the start of a four-day road trip across parts of Eastern Washington. My goal for this outreach has been pretty simple: to connect with our local retail partners in communities around the state.
The trip has offered a wonderful opportunity to re-introduce the association to a wide array of retail supporters and to discuss creative ways we might work together to strengthen and respond to the challenges and opportunities facing the industry throughout the more rural parts of the state.
As retail undergoes massive transformation, retailers are challenged to be more creative and agile than ever before. Approximately 98 percent of retailers represent small businesses that employ under 50 people. Coming together as state and local partners offers one of the most effective approaches to political advocacy in support of retail’s evolution.
Monday was off to a good start with a stop in Ellensburg to visit Laura Bobovski, Director of Economic Advancement for the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce and Carolyn Honeycutt, Economic Development manager with the Ellensburg Business Development Authority. The City along with many Community and ED advocates have done an amazing job through their Main Street initiatives, revitalizing and restoring the historic flavor of beautiful Ellensburg.
My trip would not have been complete without a visit with WRA Board Member Brad Fitterer, Owner of Fitterer’s Furniture – a downtown icon and economic staple – adding to Ellensburg’s vibrant local retail mix.
My next stop was the beautiful community of Wenatchee that included a visit with Wenatchee Valley Chamber Executive Director, Shiloh Schauer. I learned more about Wenatchee’s regional plan – Our Valley Our Future. OVOF as the locals refer to it – is an incredible body of work that includes a focused strategy for growing and expanding the retail sector in the Wenatchee Valley. A visit with the City’s ED Director, Steve King; Allison Williams, Executive Services Director; and Downtown Association Director, Laura Haglund, offered great dialogue on how WRA can best support their already robust efforts.
The remainder of the week includes visits with partners in Moses Lake, Tri-Cities and Spokane. Thanks to each one of our statewide partners who have invested their time to connect. It has been so inspiring to hear the energy, excitement and passion they have for the communities they serve. The opportunities for Washington’s retailers are vast and the future for retail around the state is bright.
Seattle council does U-turn on head tax
By John Engber, Director, Retail Industry Coalition of Seattle
The Seattle City Council voted 7 to 2 on Tuesday to repeal the Head Tax (or Employee Hours Tax), just under a month after passing the tax by a 9-0 vote. The Council passed the tax on May 14 over the vocal opposition of a broad cross-section of the public.
The Washington Retail Association opposed passage of the Head Tax and quickly donated to the campaign created to place an initiative on the ballot to repeal the Head Tax. That campaign collected more than 45,000 signatures, well in excess of the 17,700 valid signatures required to place the initiative on the ballot. Business opposition rested on several concerns including imposing costs that would discourage hiring, raise prices and make Seattle less competitive in recruiting new companies.
The success of the signature drive, coupled with strong polling for the repeal, led the City Council to repeal the 29-day old tax.
Seattle has a staggering homelessness problem. It must be addressed, and Seattle city government is spending about $90 million on homelessness in 2018. But this is not a problem unique to Seattle. We commend the One Table process that brings together King County, Seattle, suburban cities, service providers, business, philanthropy and others to address homelessness on a county-wide basis.
“A tax on jobs was never the right solution to this problem. We commend the Mayor and majority of the City Council for moving to repeal this tax,” stated Renée Sunde, President and CEO of the Washington Retail Association.
Lens reports that businesses “decapitate” head tax
The Lens story quoted two Democrat members of the Legislature who opposed the tax.
It also noted that frequent initiative sponsor Tim Eyman testified before the vote that repealing the ordinance robbed voters of their chance to determine the outcome of the tax in a planned fall referendum.
WRA participates in small business forum
By Mark Johnson, Senior VP of Government Affairs
The Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor and Industries hosted a small business forum last week for stakeholders that represent small businesses. The half-day event was attended by about 40 people.
There were several helpful and informative presentations:
- The Secretary of State’s Corporations Office demonstrated its recently launched corporations filing system. The new system allows corporations – small and large – to create and file Articles of Incorporation or Certificates of Formation for LLC’s, as well as file annual reports and search business records. There are approximately 575,000 corporations in Washington State.
- We heard an update on the new statewide paid family leave program from the Employment Security Department. The new law requires businesses and their employees to start paying premiums January 1, 2019. Benefits will become available starting January 1, 2020, after the fund has grown. Employees will be eligible to take up to 12 weeks paid leave in most cases for care of themselves and family members. Businesses can opt to have a department approved voluntary plan that they run. It has to be as comprehensive or better than the state plan.
- We heard from the Microenterprise Development representatives at Ventures. Microenterprises are the smallest of the small from 1-5 people in the business. They explained how government partners can support microbusiness growth in communities across the state and discussed some barriers that entrepreneurs face in terms of benefits, opportunities for government contracts, and regulations. The group can be reached at www.venturesnonprofit.org.
- We also heard from the IRS on the new tax laws as they relate to small business and employee withholding taxes. Over 10 million Americans are penalized for not withholding the right amount. The IRS is suggesting businesses and their employees do a “paycheck checkup.” You will need a recent pay stub and this year’s tax filing. Go to: https://www.irs.gov/individuals/irs-withholding-calculator
The program will help you estimate what your future tax liability will be so you can adjust your withholdings if necessary.
We thank the IRS and Department of Labor and Industries for hosting this useful forum.
WRA attends Organized Retail Crime board meeting
By Mark Johnson, Senior VP of Government Affairs
The Washington State Organized Retail Crime Alliance (WSORCA) held its board meeting at the Federal Way police headquarters last week. WRA is a founding member and serves on the board.
Several new developments transpired;
- The board elected new members including representatives from Lowe’s, Target, and JC Penney. Welcome to these new members.
- The board discussed hosting another ORT conference in the future. WSORCA has hosted a number of ORT conferences that have seen from 300-500 participants. These conferences are designed to bring together retail loss prevention, asset protection officers, law enforcement, prosecutors and other stakeholders to share new tactics and strategies in the fight against organized retail crime, which accounts for over $45 billion in losses nationally.
- I reported on a pilot program in Federal Way called operation “Starfish” developed by Federal Way Judge, Dave Larson. The program seeks to break the cycle of ORT thieves that continually hit retailers. The strategy is if a retailer apprehends a thief at their establishment who is in need of services, such as mental health or addiction, they can offer to divert that person to the coordinated resources, thus hopefully helping them keep from repeating their crime. Some retailers report annual store losses of $1 to $2 million. These costs are seen in increased prices and loss of sales and tax revenues.
- Finally, the board discussed the possibility of the state raising the felony theft limit from $750. The board unanimously disapproved of this threat. Raising the limit will undoubtedly increase the amount of theft retailers will incur. Also being discussed at a state level is the possibility of cutting property crime sentences. Again, it’s a bad move that will just encourage thieves to steal more knowing that the consequences are very minor, if at all. Washington State needs to be tough on crime to protect retailers and their customers.
WSORCA hosts a web-based application for police and loss prevention officers to share information about ORT suspects. The site has now been upgraded for use on mobile devices. If you are a loss prevention officer interested in joining the site please contact me for approval: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Mark Johnson, Senior VP of Government Affairs
The Washington State Lt. Governor, Cyrus Habib, has partnered with the Association of Washington Generals, 501(C) 3 organization, to administer the Washington World Fellows Program – a fellowship dedicated to sending underserved student ambassadors abroad to have an immersive foreign language and cultural experience; engage in college courses and become comfortable within a college setting; and receive college readiness support following the study abroad program. (see one-pager here).
The program partners include Central Washington University and the University of León, as well as the Honorary Consulate of Spain. The World Fellows program is planning to send 15 students this summer to the program in Spain, almost all of whom plan to be the first in their families to attend college.
Scholarships to the program are $6,000.00 per student and can be made by check donation to PO Box 2786 Olympia, WA 98507, or online here. All donations go to the program’s 501 (C) 3 host organization, the Association of Washington Generals. Any amount is appreciated.
The Lt. Governor is seeking retail corporate sponsors to support these students. If you are interested in helping to make this program a success, please contact Kristina Brown, Director of Program Development, at (425) 457-0073 or Kristina.email@example.com. She is hoping to have sponsors in place by the end of June.
For more information please see press release.
Court decides state has met its education funding requirements
The state Supreme Court last week put an official end to years of legislative efforts to fully fund state public schools. The court unanimously ruled that the Legislature is no longer in contempt of court and ended its oversight of the so-called McCleary case.
In 2012, the court ruled that the Legislature was not meeting its duty under the state Constitution to fully fund schools. The original case was filed in 2007.
There were several reports by media and think tanks regarding the court’s final ruling on an issue that has dominated the Legislature for the past decade.
Could Supreme Court ruling on e-fairness be near?
The National Retail Federation is poised for a possible announcement soon from the U.S. Supreme Court on a case involving whether online sellers must collect sales taxes.
This week, the federation reported that the court offered no update on Monday, the day it typically announces rulings. It further speculated that an announcement could come tomorrow or on one of the next two Mondays.
Earlier this year, the court heard oral arguments on a 2016 South Dakota law that requires online merchants with more than $100,000 in sales to state residents or 200 transactions with state residents to collect sales taxes. Many online sellers do not collect sales taxes as a result of a 1992 Supreme Court decision that online sellers can only be required to collect sales taxes in states where they have a physical presence such as a store, office or warehouse.
NRF and Washington Retail believe the 1992 court decision is outdated now that various software programs would allow online retailers to quickly determine how much sales taxes were owed across the nation. Associations such as WRA maintain that online sellers are getting an unfair price advantage and threatening the futures of traditional physical stores by electing not to collect sales taxes.
Read more on this topic.
How to obtain petitions for I-1608
Supporters of an initiative to require contract talks for public employees to be conducted in public want more interested voters to read copies of their petition. Washington Retail Association is among the supporters of Initiative 1608.
Click here to have copies of the petition mailed to you.
Often, public employee labor contracts are negotiated in private in Washington State, including with Governors and state employees. Initiative supporters seek more accountability to achieve better stewardship of public funds in the awarding of labor contracts to public employees.
If approved, the initiative would not apply to private employers. Among those endorsing I-1608 are former state Auditor Brian Sonntag (D) and former Attorney General Rob McKenna (R).
Retailers seek info on employee training
The National Retail Federation is conducting a survey of employee training offered by companies.
Retailers are putting a growing emphasis on training to help build jobs into careers in the fast-changing industry. With employer permission, the federation may be able to use some examples in its advocacy efforts.
To take the survey, visit https://www.research.net/r/TrainingSurveyJune18.
Safety tip of the week
Take extra precautions on the late shift
For those employers who operate late-night retail establishments, your Accident Prevention Program should address how employees working late shifts would protect themselves from thefts and robberies, etc. A plan that outlines measures to reduce risks such as training workers on de-escalation techniques, installing adequate lighting in parking lots, and providing drop safes are some of the items to be addressed. Various factors can increase the risk of workplace violence, including:
- Exchanging money with the public.
- Working where alcohol is sold or served.
- Working late at night or in areas with high crime rates.
- Working with volatile or unstable people.
- Working alone or in isolated areas.
Employees who are working alone should practice these tips for their safety:
- Keep emergency phone numbers handy.
- Have someone contact you regularly to make sure you are OK. If you operate more than one store, have each other cross check themselves.
- Make eye contact with all customers and greet each in a friendly manner.
- Don’t leave back doors open and unattended.
- Don’t empty garbage or make bank deposits at night.
- Keep a casual eye on anyone who is loitering but, don’t stare or confront them.
If you are caught in a robbery situation, stay as calm as you can and look out for your own safety. Money and merchandise can be replaced, but people can’t. More information and tips can be found in the RASI Safety Library in the Violence and Working Late sections.
WRA employs Rick Means as a Safety Specialist who is available to members to help draw up safety plans and suggest topics for safety meetings. Contact him at 360-200-6454, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new report addresses “digital distractions”
The changing workplace also brings new challenges for employees struggling to focus and get work done.
A new report is out that can help companies address the “digital distractions” posed by the internet, smartphones, headphones, iPods and more. Each of these devices can break up a normal work routine and reduce the productive hours of employees during a workday.
Click here for background and to learn findings and recommendations.
WRA diversity statement
It’s essential to have a holistic strategic plan for diversity and inclusion. We encourage everyone to consider having a plan that connects with diverse people; creates a diverse workforce; fosters an inclusive work environment where different perspectives are valued; partners to share time, talent, and resources with our staff and with communities; and communicates these values with others.
In principle and in practice, we value access to leadership opportunity regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, appearance, geographic location, or professional level. The association strives to accomplish this by serving as a model where we are working to help our staff, our volunteer leaders, our members, and our community embrace these principles.