Mayor’s panel fails to reach consensus on wage recommendations
The committee considering a $15 minimum wage in Seattle was supposed to announce a deal between business and labor to reach that goal.
Seattle Times staff reporters
The committee trying to craft a $15 minimum-wage recommendation for Seattle broke up without reaching an agreement between business and labor on Wednesday afternoon, the deadline Mayor Ed Murray had set for it to do so.
A core group of negotiators worked late Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, met an hour into the scheduled start time for the final meeting and continued tense discussions with staff members from the mayor’s office into Wednesday evening, said several observers.
Murray held out hope that an 11th — or 12th — hour deal could still be reached, but also said he planned on Thursday to announce his own proposal, which would address the “strong public support” in the city for raising the minimum wage.
“We are very, very close to a deal that all stakeholders can agree with, but we are still not there yet,” Murray said in a statement released shortly after the committee broke up about 2:30 p.m.
“Standing with me, I hope, will be members of my income-inequality advisory committee. And it is my hope that it will be all the members of my advisory committee,” he said.
Negotiators have been working through several divisive issues, including the length of a phase-in, whether to give business credit for tips and benefits, and the size of business to which a phase-in would apply.
Seattle nightlife entrepreneur Dave Meinert emerged from Wednesday’s committee meeting and said, “I need a scotch.”
He said the lack of consensus and drawn-out discussions were frustrating, but he added that all the committee members were trying in good faith to reach a compromise.
“The intent is to help people without hurting people. I think everybody feels the same way, and there’s just some confusion about what that means,” said Meinert, who owns Big Mario’s Pizza, the Five Point Cafe and other ventures.
Advisory-committee member Michael Wells, executive director at the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, said the concept of a phase-in for different types of businesses remained a source of disagreement.
“We want to be sensitive to nonprofits, micro-businesses and multicultural employers,” he said. “It’s a very complicated, very emotional discussion, so we had to extend our deadline a little bit.”
Adding urgency to the negotiations are the vows of 15 Now activists to place a strong $15 minimum-wage initiative on the November ballot if the mayor’s proposal falls short.
That group has invited low-wage workers and their advocates from around the country to a daylong conference Saturday at which it may announce a decision about whether to go forward with a signature-gathering drive.
City Councilmember Kshama Sawant continued her strong rhetoric on behalf of improving the lives of low-wage workers. She expressed frustration that committee members couldn’t agree that the largest businesses and national franchises should be subject to a higher wage more quickly than smaller businesses.
“There’s no justification for big business to continue to pay workers poverty wages one second more,” she said before joining about 200 workers, union activists and members of faith communities for a minimum-wage rally at City Hall.
City Councilmember Bruce Harrell also emerged from the Wednesday meeting expressing frustration that committee members still hadn’t reached an agreement.
“I’ll tell you what I told them,” Harrell said. “They’re still dancing around issues. I said, ‘If the two sides disagree, let’s say we disagree.’ The mayor says he’ll have a proposal tomorrow.”
Also Wednesday, minority and immigrant business owners in Seattle emerged as a vocal force in the anti-$15 now movement. A coalition representing local chambers of commerce for Chinese, Hispanic, Korean and Vietnamese businesses gathered at the New Hong Kong Restaurant in the Chinatown International District to express concerns about a $15 minimum wage.
They’ve also sent dozens of representatives to lobby the City Council, which will hold its first discussion of the mayor’s proposal May 5.
Local businessman Lawrence Pang, past president of the Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce, said he may not renew his office lease in Belltown for fear that the pay mandate will go through.
Pang, owner of a small insurance agency, said he also has put on hold plans to hire several new workers at an hourly rate of $10 to $12, citing the potential costs of a $15 wage floor.
“I just don’t know what to expect in the next year. If I have to move out of Seattle, I will,” he said. “It’s just too expensive.”
Lynn Thompson: email@example.com or 206-464-8305.