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Murray's big tent solution for the $15 minimum wage fight

A group with members from the business community, labor organizations and the City Council will have four months to come up with a plan for how to increase Seattle's pay floor.
All on the same team? Incoming Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Mayor-elect Ed Murray discuss increasing the minimum wage at a press conference on Thursday.

All on the same team? Incoming Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Mayor-elect Ed Murray discuss increasing the minimum wage at a press conference on Thursday. Photo: Bill Lucia

Mayor-elect Ed Murray has given a committee a challenging assignment: to come up with a plan for increasing Seattle's minimum wage. The committee includes people who were at odds over the $15 per hour minimum wage ballot initiative that voters recently approved in the nearby city of SeaTac.

Murray announced the members of his Income Inequality Advisory Committee on Thursday, and said they'll have four months to develop a proposal. The Mayor-elect has said he supports raising the wage to $15 per hour by the end of his four-year term. The 23-member committee, a mix of City Council members, business leaders and labor representatives, is charged with hammering out the details of the wage bump. Included on the committee is recently elected Socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant, whose push for a $15 minimum wage has generated a swirl of national attention. 

Proponents of the pay increase say low-income workers can't get by on the state-mandated minimum wage of $9.19 per hour. Opponents say raising the wage to $15 per hour will result in layoffs and hit small businesses hard.

“There are strong disagreements between the individuals who agreed to sit down and participate in this process,” Murray said during a morning press conference at the Seattle Municipal Building. “I don’t know what the outcome will be.”

While the outcome is uncertain, Murray emphasized that the deadline is not. 

“In four months,” he said, “regardless of what happens, I’m going to send something to the council.”

Sawant, in her remarks, said she wanted to give workers a voice on the committee.

“It is incumbent upon me to do everything in my power to represent the interests of workers in Seattle,” Sawant said. “And that means engaging the people who don’t agree with me.” 

Sawant held her own press conference on Tuesday, where she restated her support for implementing the $15 minimum wage as soon as possible and said that if the political process in City Hall failed to produce a proposal that was acceptable to her supporters, then she would support turning the wage increase into a ballot initiative. On Thursday, she said the ballot initiative option was still “very much under consideration.”

Murray said he does not want to see the issue decided at the ballot box.

“I do not want the business community and the labor community of this city to spend extraordinary amounts of money on an initiative,” he said. “My hope is avoid that initiative through this process.”

The committee's co-chairs H.S. Wright III, CEO of the Seattle Hospitality Group, agreed with Murray.

“It would be a bloodbath financially and it would divide the city,” he said. “I have had many people who have said let’s see if we can find an acceptable solution that makes everybody happy.”

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think we could arrive at a solution,” Wright also said.

A group called $15in2014 filed an initiative with the City Clerk's Office last week that calls for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour in January 2015. Initiative 104 would also cut the city's business and occupation tax by half and reduce a tax on the number of square feet businesses occupy. The backers of the initiative, who have not filed any campaign finance disclosures with the city yet, will have to collect 20,637 signatures to get the measure on next year's ballot.

The committee’s other co-chair is David Rolf, president of the Service Employees International Union 775NW. Rolf and the union were involved in the campaign for SeaTac's Proposition 1, which introduced a $15 minimum wage for some workers in that city. Voters narrowly approved the initiative last month. SEIU chapters and groups contributed heavily to the campaign, which raised a total of $1.4 million.

"I appreciate most of all that our leader has given us a deadline," Rolf said. "We are a city that has been sometimes accused of being a little too addicted to process."

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Posted Thu, Dec 19, 9:10 p.m. Inappropriate

There is not a single business owner on the list of committee members that has annual revenue of less than $5 Million. So those who would be most affected by a 63% increase in the minimum wage have absolutely no representation in this process. How very un-democratic.


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 3:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Funny, I thought those who would be most affected -- the workers actually doing the work -- seem to be pretty well-represented.


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 9:29 a.m. Inappropriate

When I was 16 and a busboy at a hotel, every few months the manager called me in to his office. Dramatically, he would slide open the top desk drawer to retrieve a roll of butcher paper upon which were written hundreds of names. "These are all the people waiting to take your job," he would say while pointing to my name which had a line through it. "Always remember you are replaceable."

It was only $2.20 per hour, and very hard work. And certainly I never thought of that as a "living wage". Rather the experience instilled in me fierce competition to be the best employee while devising an escape plan to a real job and a better life.

Competition leads to natural selection.

Posted Fri, Dec 20, 9:44 a.m. Inappropriate

When I analyze the $9.19 to $15 / hour situation, I find it to be a treatment of symptoms rather than systems. It feels like the government can't develop policy and programs to solve the problems we have, so they pass it on to employers. Not unlike passing the responsibility of healthcare and retirement onto the employers.

We have an enormous supply of unskilled and low-skilled workers that includes all skin colors and ages and we also have an over-supply problem of folks who don't have even the most basic of work habits established - many who have never ever worked and many who are unemployable. The folks who have not been able to successfully navigate our K-12 system assure that the supply will go on and on. Additionally we have a plethora of retail and service jobs that don't make good long term employment. Basically people to clean the houses and polish the shoes of the folks making money with jobs that pay well.

I believe that a big piece of the problem that needs to be solved is at the education end and creating well-paying jobs so we can feed people into those jobs and careers that have a salary ladder folks can climb onto.

We have the highest minimum wage in the country that's about to go from 9.19 to 9.43 and that extends to tipped employees who get the 9.19 plus tips which is way way higher than anywhere. I'd much rather see employers pay a buck or two an hour into an education fund for the worker rather than create a pseudo-solution that doesn't solve the problem.

What we've seen is that youth and low-skilled workers suffer the most with drastic minimum wage hikes. They simply don't get hired and the problems of unemployment in those groups risks reaching astronomical levels with this $9.19 to $15.00 non-solution. I imagine we will become the magnet for anyone without a job if we aren't already that. I wish we could solve problems without creating huge new ones.

Posted Fri, Dec 20, 10:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Spot on and well said.


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