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Seattle’s historic $15 wage measure advances

UPDATE (June 2, 2014) — In addition to today’s 1 p.m. rally before the 2 p.m. council meeting and vote (see below), the M.L. King County Labor Council encourages all to attend a post-vote cake and ice cream celebration of the good work Seattle has accomplished for working families. The event, hosted by the $15 for Seattle coalition, will be after the vote at approximately 3 p.m. in City Hall Plaza on 4th & James. Union members are encouraged to bring banners and wear your union colors.

SEATTLE (May 30, 2014) — A City Council committee voted unanimously Thursday to advance the city’s historic $15 minimum wage ordinance for a full council vote on Monday, June 2. Although the committee voted to delay the initial start date for the phased-in wage increases from Jan. 1 to April 1 of next year, the measure is largely unchanged from the version proposed by Mayor Ed Murray to encapsulate the compromise plan reached by a committee of business, labor and community leaders after four months of negotiations.

The proposed ordinance would increase city’s minimum wage to $15 for employees at large businesses with 500 or more employees, including most fast-food chains, by 2017. If their employees receive health care benefits, big businesses would have until 2018. It would phase-in the higher minimum wage for all other businesses to an inflation-adjusted equivalent over the next five, seven or 10 years, depending on the size of the business and whether employees receive tips or health care benefits. By 2025, ALL workers in Seattle would get an $18.13 inflation-adjusted minimum wage, regardless of tips or health care, and it would be increased each year thereafter for inflation.

As each amendment was considered, supporters in the audience held up signs indicating support or opposition.

As each amendment was considered, supporters in the audience held up signs indicating support or opposition.

Hundreds of fast-food workers, union activists and community supporters packed Thursday’s committee hearing to support strengthening the measure. Several amendments were proposed by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, including to shorten the phase-in time and increase the penalties for violating the ordinance, but they were voted down by the committee. But the approved ordinance also won’t include many of the business-sought changes, including slowing the phase-in, exempting certain employers (such as non-profit organizations), and adopting a sub-minimum “training wage” for all new employees.

In the end, the only amendments adopted Thursday were the 3-month initial delay (on a 4-3 vote); giving the city discretion to set lower minimum wages for some teenagers (mirroring state law, which allows businesses to pay 14- and 15-year-olds 85% of the minimum); changing the phase-in’s inflationary adjustments to a presumed 2.4 percent inflation rate (likely a net plus for workers); and a Sawant-proposed increase of the statute of limitations for filing wage complaints from 180 days to three years (she cited the case of Lilly Ledbetter, who didn’t know for years that she was being underpaid).

sawant-kshamaSo when the final unanimous vote was taken to advance the measure to the full committee, activists for 15 Now, Working Washington, Puget Sound Sage and others backing the minimum wage increase cheered and declared victory. They still intend to urge the full council to amend the measure to remove the April 1 delay, shorten the phase-in periods, and take out the authority for setting a lower teen or training wage. 15 Now is organizing supporters to attend a 1 p.m. rally on Monday at City Hall in advance of the 2 p.m. council meeting to tell the council to “close the corporate loopholes” in the measure.

The M.L. King County Labor Council, AFL-CIO approved a resolution on May 21 supporting the ordinance as “a victory for labor and the community,” but urging the City Council to strengthen it by shortening the phase-in period, removing language that allows slower phase-in for workers who earn tips, and strengthening the enforcement mechanisms. They will continue to urge the full council to make those changes.

After Thursday’s committee action, MLKCLC Executive Secretary Treasurer David Freiboth issued the following statement:

Action by the Seattle City Council on the $15 minimum wage proposal developed by Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequity Advisory Committee, of which I was a member, is a significant victory by the progressive community.  It is a clear statement that neo-liberal, trickle-down economics simply does not provide economic health for the entire community. With the recent action by the City Council’s Minimum Wage subcommittee unanimously approving the essence of the IIAC recommendation we are seeing a significant shift in economic policy. With the anticipated passage Monday by the full Council this ordinance not only will lift many, many workers out of poverty it tells the business establishment in no uncertain terms that the game is changing, that working people are tired of watching the 1% get richer while the rest of us get poorer.

Meanwhile, 15 Now is expecting to announce after the full council vote on Monday whether the approved measure is sufficiently strong that they will drop a proposed ballot measure — for which they have already been gathering signatures — that would require all businesses with more than 250 workers to start paying $15 an hour on Jan. 1 and allow a three-year phase-in for smaller businesses.

Here is Seattle Channel coverage of yesterday’s hearing and votes. (MLKCLC’s Freiboth speaks at 11:48.)

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