“The people have spoken,” Seattle City Councilmember-elect Kshama Sawant said today, addressing a packed City Hall press conference. It was her first since the election on the issue that ignited her campaign: a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
But what, exactly, does she think the people are saying? Six weeks after the socialist’s victory upended city politics, it’s still not clear. There are many questions about how a minimum wage measure in Seattle would work: Would it affect all workers or only those in certain industries? Would small businesses be exempt? Would the same wage apply to teenagers?
Sawant, however, said she would not be releasing details of her proposal until early next year. She said she first had to listen to “the most important stakeholders”--the workers themselves—as well as to research economists. To that end, she announced the launch of a website, 15now.org, which said she was aimed at building a “grassroots movement.” Right now, the website asks for names and contact information, and she encouraged everyone to sign up. “Help me, help you,” she said.
The councilmember-elect, who talking to SW before the press conference said she had fallen sick after after the whirlwind of the election and needed time to recover, did hint under questioning at some directions in which she was headed. She said, for instance, she wanted any measure to be as “inclusive” as possible, suggesting that it would not be targeted only at a few industries. SeaTac’s Prop 1, in contrast, affects only businesses catering to the airport, and those of a certain size.
At the same time, she recognized the plight of small businesses, saying “we have to be sure that they can survive.” Asked whether that might mean she would entertain a small business exemption, she said nevertheless that she couldn’t yet say. She asserted that small businesses’ number one problem was not any pending minimum wage legislation but a “regressive” tax system that favors big corporations.
Mainly, though, Sawant used the occasion to build on the considerable minimum wage momentum already under way. She stood in front of a dozen or so people holding placards with the “$15/hr” slogan, and introduced a handful of speakers who endorsed that goal. They included SEIU 775 vice-president Sterling Harders, who said that her union, a leading organizer behind the SeaTac campaign, “knows a bit about making the impossible into a reality.” The NAACP’s Sheley Seacrest declared a minimum wage hike “a civil rights issue.” And Carlos Hernandez, a former Subway worker who alleges he was fired for his activism, spoke about single moms he has worked beside who juggle two and three jobs to support their families on the minimum wage.
With a groundswell of enthusiasm on the issue, Sawant is no longer the only politician in Seattle giving press conferences on it. Mayor-elect Ed Murray has scheduled one for Thursday to announce an “income inequality advisory committee.”
Sawant said she and Murray are scheduled to meet before then. Whether they will see eye to eye remains to be seen. Sawant today reiterated her desire to move quickly and turn to the initiative process if the legislative one drags on. Murray, in contrast, favors an “incremental approach,” according to spokesperson Jeff Reading.
“I think he wants to address it this year,” Reading affirms, speaking to SW. But Reading says the mayor-elect also wants to avoid moving so fast that he doesn’t build the groundwork necessary to win any ballot measure that might occur. “Shoving a solution in front of people” could “polarize” the issue, Reading says, and that might “jeopardize’ the whole effort.
Sounds like we won’t be hearing too many details on Thursday either.