By JEFF JOHNSON
Special to The Stand
SEATTLE (Mar. 6, 2014) — Last night, about 600-800 people filled Seattle’s Town Hall to give their opinion on a $15-an-hour minimum livable wage proposal before Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee. The testimony was overwhelmingly positive, sometimes entertaining, and quite lively as folks poured out passionate two-minute statements on addressing inequality.
Even the business testimony was somewhat measured with most saying they favored an increase in the minimum wage but not as high as $15, and not immediately. Unfortunately but characteristically, the Restaurant Association was out in force and they pushed hard for a tip penalty and training wages.
But perhaps the most disingenuous business testimony came from the granddaughter of the founder of Dick’s Drive-In restaurants. She said a $15 wage would jeopardize other benefits, “Sadly, some of our benefits would have to be on the table, including 100% employer paid health insurance…” There was no admission that Dick’s might, in fact, bring in more sales and revenue as disposable income for thousands of workers would rise by 60% and some of these workers might actually buy hamburgers.
Many union representatives and community allies testified in favor if the $ 15 wage including UFCW, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, Teamsters, Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, UNITE HERE, Musicians, SEIU Locals 925 and 775.
At the 3-hour mark, I got to testify on behalf of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Here are the remarks I made on our behalf:
Hello, my name is Jeff Johnson and I am the President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Thank you for your stamina and thank you for the opportunity to say that the WSLC supports a minimum livable wage of $15 an hour in Seattle.
The Labor Council has a long and proud history supporting minimum wage increases. We have written supported successful minimum wage legislation, and written and run two successful minimum wage initiatives. These efforts have led to dramatic increases in the minimum wage, expanded worker coverage under the act — no exemptions — and indexed the minimum wage to inflation. We were the first public entity in the country to index the minimum wage.
But we were short-sighted. We set our sights too low. We were focused on full-time employment and raising individuals above the poverty threshold. What we did not anticipate was an accelerating trend towards part-time employment. We did not anticipate a wage ceiling of $1.50 to $2 above the minimum wage that prevents workers, without a voice at work, from getting a larger share of the prosperity that they produce. We did not anticipate the soaring cost of living in Seattle (we did not have a “Self-Sufficiency Index” back then to check our math against). And we certainly did not anticipate the staggering inequality of income and wealth that we now all face.
We need a minimum livable wage that allows workers to live and prosper in the city in which they work. $9.32 an hour does not cut it. $15 an hour begins to get us there. But I would ask you not to consider any exemptions, tip penalties, or training wages in the final ordinance. All workers deserve to earn at least a minimum livable wage of $15 an hour in the City of Seattle.
There are a number of other public hearings scheduled over the next month and recommendations by the Advisory Committee to the mayor are due at the end of April.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.