Efforts to set $15-hour minimum wage gain steam in Seattle
Councilmember-elect Kshama Sawant said 2014 is the year for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in Seattle. Ed Murray said he plans to bring together business and labor and hopes to have a bill to the City Council within six months but said he won’t get fixated on a number.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Kshama Sawant on Tuesday called 2014 the year of the $15 minimum wage in Seattle.
But how that goal might be reached is anyone’s guess. Already Seattle City Council member-elect Sawant’s planned minimum-wage hike — the centerpiece of her campaign — is joined by at least two other plans to do the same.
Mayor-elect Ed Murray has called a news conference Thursday in which he is expected to name a stakeholder committee to write legislation he could propose to the City Council within six months.
And a pro-business group filed its own $15 minimum-wage initiative with the Seattle city clerk last week. Initiative 104, which will require about 21,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot, also would slash business taxes.
Passing a higher minimum wage next year could depend on whether those plans compete, or if local leaders are able to come up with one that satisfies all proponents.
Sawant, at a City Hall news conference Tuesday, said she planned to collaborate with labor, community groups and other city leaders to craft a proposal but pledged to keep the needs of low-wage workers at the center of the debate.
“We’re talking to the working people of Seattle. They have the most at stake,” said the new socialist council member, flanked by labor, fast-food, social-justice and church activists who were outnumbered by the media.
Sawant’s remarks held out the possibility that city leaders, including Murray and the City Council, could agree on the details of a minimum-wage proposal and avert a costly and potentially divisive fight over a ballot measure in November.
She said she would wait until January to release details of her proposal but cautioned that she and other activists “have a bottom line” of all workers having a $15 minimum wage “in the near future.”
But Murray, in a conversation with The Seattle Times editorial board, said that he wasn’t “fixated on a number” and that business would have to get something out of the negotiations if it was going to support a minimum-wage proposal.
Among questions that Murray said still needed to be answered were how a $15 minimum wage would be applied, over what period of time and whether small businesses would be exempt.
But he also said that any proposed measure “will have to be significant.”
Murray already has met with some business leaders and invited them to participate in a stakeholder group to be chaired by Howard S. Wright and David Rolf.
David Watkins, general manager of the Inn at the Market and president of the Seattle Hotel Association, said he and others will be looking to SeaTac, which just passed a $15 minimum-wage measure for hospitality and other airport-related workers.
“SeaTac is obviously a learning ground, but how much time do we have to learn what works and what doesn’t?” he asked.
Initiative 104 would create two tiers of workers, with the top tier, including chain retail and restaurant and hospitality employees, receiving $15 an hour and a second tier of employees earning $1.50 above the state minimum wage.
The initiative also slashes business taxes. It cuts the city B&O tax rate in half and halves the square-footage tax. Officials estimate it would cost the city $100 million in lost revenue each year.
“If we’re raising wages, we should lower the taxes on business. That’s the key to prosperity,” said Elizabeth Campbell, a backer of Initiative 104. Campbell previously fought the waterfront tunnel and unsuccessfully sued Councilmember Richard Conlin, accusing him of exceeding his authority in signing environmental documents for the project.
She now runs paid signature-gathering operations, most recently for the successful charter amendment to elect council members by district and a state gun-rights initiative.
The pro-business minimum-wage initiative is almost certain to cause confusion. It was filed by a group calling itself $15in2014 and its website says its goal is to “gain and retain power for working people.”
Sawant announced that activists in January would launch a campaign for the $15 minimum wage with a website called 15Now.org. And she has said that if she and her supporters aren’t able to find common ground with business and other city leaders, they will introduce their own initiative for the November general election.
“$15 has captured the imagination of working people across the country. It will bring substantial improvement in their lives,” Sawant said.
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305.