Seattle’s minimum-wage win spurs talk to target more cities
Organizers who pushed a $15 minimum wage in Seattle are looking at their next targets, which could include cities like Bellevue and Spokane, or an increase in the state minimum wage.
Seattle Times political reporter
Under Seattle’s new $15 minimum-wage law, minimum-wage workers will get raises starting April 1.
Employees of businesses with more than 500 workers will start at $11 an hour and reach $15 in 2017. Large businesses that provide health-care benefits will have an additional year.
Businesses with fewer than 500 workers will be required to pay $15 by 2019. Small businesses that claim a credit for tips and benefits will reach $15 an hour in 2021.
The wages increase each year under all plans.
Today Seattle, tomorrow Bellevue?
Even before Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed the city’s historic $15 minimum wage ordinance into law this week, organizers who helped push for the wage law were talking about where to devote their attentions next.
While no firm plans are in place, there is already chatter about whether to pursue minimum-wage increases in other Washington cities — and to renew a push to raise the state minimum wage above the current $9.32 an hour.
“I think other cities are going to have to start looking at it,” said David Rolf, president of SEIU Healthcare 775, who co-chaired the city panel that reached a compromise plan to phase in Seattle’s new minimum wage over several years.
Rolf said it makes sense to look at boosting the minimum wage — though maybe not as high as $15 — in other cities like Bellevue, Olympia, Bellingham and Spokane. He said union activists are having email discussions about next steps but stressed there is no “master plan” yet.
There have been no discussions at Bellevue City Hall about a minimum-wage increase, said city spokeswoman Emily Christensen.
But Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a socialist who made the $15 minimum wage a centerpiece of her election campaign last year, said she’s already heard from people in Bellevue, Tacoma and other cities interested in pursuing similar proposals.
“I think it is absolutely critical that we use this victory as a building block,” Sawant said, saying workers in other cities should feel empowered by Seattle’s example.
Regardless of what happens elsewhere, Sawant said, she’s pursuing additional proposals to help low-wage Seattle workers, such as rent control and a moratorium on foreclosures.
Nationally, Seattle’s example has accelerated the wage debate in other major cities, including San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles.
“It’s expanding the range of the possible. Seattle was a breakthrough in suddenly pushing to raise the minimum wage to a much higher value in real terms,” said Paul Sonn, general counsel and program director for the labor-backed National Employment Law Project.
In San Francisco, for example, Mayor Edwin Lee has said he supports asking voters to significantly raise that city’s $10.74 minimum wage — which until the Seattle City Council vote was the highest in the country.
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has appointed a task force to examine whether to raise that city’s minimum wage above the Illinois state minimum of $8.25 an hour.
In New York City, Democrats including Mayor Bill de Blasio have called for raising that city’s minimum wage to as high as $15 an hour, but have been unable so far to win a change in state law needed to set a city wage that goes higher than the state’s $8-an-hour minimum.
Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, who has emerged as a major player in the local and national income-inequality debate, said he hopes to see other major cities follow Seattle’s lead by bringing business and worker groups to the table to hash out details of minimum-wage plans.
“All of these are places that are progressive cities and are led by thoughtful people,” Hanauer said. “All of them should engage in the same sort of process we went through.”
In this state, Bellevue, too, “would be another great place to run a process like the one we ran here,” said Hanauer. But just because Seattle raised its wage to $15 an hour doesn’t mean that figure should be copied in every other city.
“We’re very confident it makes perfect sense in a place like Seattle or San Francisco. It absolutely doesn’t make sense in a small town like Yakima,” Hanauer said.
An alternate path to a patchwork, city-by-city approach could be an increase in Washington’s state minimum wage, already the highest in the nation.
Gov. Jay Inslee and House Speaker Frank Chopp, both Democrats, favor raising the state minimum wage to as high as $12 an hour.
David Postman, Inslee’s communications director, said the governor is putting together an informal income-inequality advisory group to look at a minimum-wage increase or other actions to help low-wage workers.
Chopp vowed to again push a bill to raise the minimum wage to $12 over three years in the next legislative session.
That proposal, sponsored by state Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, failed to pass even in the Democratically controlled House last year.
Jess Spear, a socialist challenging Chopp in the 43rd Legislative District, has criticized Chopp for failing to get that bill through his caucus while approving a record $8.7 billion in tax breaks for Boeing.
Chopp noted the House did pass other bills to combat wage theft and require most businesses to offer employees paid sick leave. Those bills did not advance in the state Senate, which was controlled by a Republican dominated Majority Coalition Caucus.
“We came up a little short on the minimum wage. We’ll try again next session,” Chopp said.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner