Seattle Mayor Ed Murray today announced details of a plan for Seattle to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, the highest of any major city in the nation.
“Seattle Workers are getting a raise,” proclaimed Murray during a press conference this morning, which the mayor said only coincidentally coincided with May Day. “Throughout this process, I’ve had two goals: To get Seattle’s low-wage workers to $15 per hour while also supporting our employers, and to avoid a costly battle at the ballot box between competing initiatives.”
According to the plan, as outlined by Murray, small businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees) will reach a $15 minimum wage in 7 years. Large businesses (those with 500 or more employees) will hit the $15 minimum wage in 3 years. Once the $15 wage is reached, said Murray, future increases will be tied to the consumer price index, though that provision is still under negotiation.
“This is a historic day for the city of Seattle,” said Murray.
Workers toiling at small businesses can expect to see their wages increase to $10 next year, $10.50 in 2016, $11 in 2017, $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019, $13.50 in 2020 and $15 per hour in 2022. For the first five years, small businesses could reach their compensation mandate through a combination of wages, tips and health care benefits. So the much discussed “tip credit” is part of the plan - for now.
“This has been a long process of give and take leading to agreement that will help to narrow the income gap facing our middle class,” said Howard Wright, the Seattle Hospitality Group CEO who co-chaired Murray’s 24-member income inequality advisory committee.
“We all do better when we all do better,” said fellow co-chair, and SEIU president, David Rolfe. “It has been an incredibly long and fruitful 16 weeks.”
Of the 24 members, there were three who did not vote for ther plan. They are Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce president Maud Daudon, who abstained; Craig Dawson of Retail Lockbox, who voted no; and City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who apparently didn’t vote at all. The mayor classified her as an “unknown.”
At a news conference following Murray’s big announcement, held outside Council chambers, Sawant quickly made her feelings known. She lit into the proposal, calling it an “attempt by business to water down what Seattle wants.” She added that she would have voted for a plan, endorsed by labor, to immediately phase-in the $15 minimum wage for employees at large businesses, and a three-year incremental phase-in for small businesses - and not a tip credit. “But that proposal was not voted on.”
While conceding that the accord reached “is a testament to those workers who have pushed back against the status quo,” Sawant urged her supporters to put pressure on the Council for a better deal.
Councilmember Sally Clark said the Council’s Select Committee on the Minimum Wage and Income Inequality will begin its review of Murray’s proposal on May 5.
Here’s more of what people had to say.
“I’m happy!” exclaimed the wealthy venture capitalist, committee member, an early activist for a $15 wage. “I think an exceptional thing happened in Seattle. Business and labor leaders came together,” He called the deal hammered out an “extraordinarily sensible compromise.”
Wright said “the employer community will be happy with this.” Rolf called the deal an “innovative compromise” and “fantastic collaboration.” Standing together after the press conference, the pair, who have clearly established a rapport during months of intense negotiation, recounted how the core group of between six and eight negotiators reached a working deal at 4 yesterday afternoon. Then they got on the phones and starting selling it to their constituencies and other members of the advisory committee. “We got to 21 this morning, “Rolf says. “I was surprised to get that many.”
“I told the mayor when he began this process that, no way, would he get a majority,” said the City Councilmember and commitee member. “You better be prepared for a majority and minority report.” He gives a lot of credit to the mayor for avoiding that scenario. “He personally spent many hours negotiating. I haven’t seen that with past mayors.”
As to whether the council would tinker with this deal, he said, “I think council members are probably sighing in relief that something came out. I think they don’t want to stir the pot any more than necessary.”
While he recognized that there could still be “all kinds of initiatives” from activists unhappy with this deal and insistent on putting their own plan before voters, he said he thought such activists would have an “uphill battle” trying to convince the public to steer away from an agreement already worked out.
“Oh no,” said the executive secretary of the King County Labor Council when asked whether he was totally happy with the deal. “There are elements some of my folks are going to have problems with”--the long phase-in being chief among them. Nontheless, the committee member said he though that “with the perspective of time, this will be seen as a great thing for workers.”
The Hotel Andra CEO and committee member acknowledged that the deal would be a tough sell to some in the business community. “But I have to say that most businesses are fairly progressive in this city.” He minimized the abstention from Daudon, saying that it was likely due to her role as a chamber employee who needed to get everybody on board before voting yes. Daudon is reportedly now in New York with other chamber members.
Still Schafer said, “the devil will be in the details of how this is drafted. You have to get into enforcement. How will that work?”
A spokesperson for a coalition of progressive groups called 15ForSeattle, said her organization is “strongly” supporting the agreement, which she maintained would affect “the vast majority of low-wage workers.” She noted they include people who work for McDonalds, Target and Amazon, which runs a warehouse in South Seattle where workers earn far less than their well-off, South Lake Union brethren.