Mayor Murray bumps city workers’ base wage to $15 an hour
by Bill Lucia
2014: The year $15 an hour came to Seattle.
Mayor Ed Murray issued an executive order on Friday asking his department heads to develop a strategy for raising the minimum wage for all city employees to $15 per hour.
As Crosscut reported on Thursday, the City Budget Office estimates that the wage increase would add about $690,000 to Seattle’s annual labor costs. There are currently 663 city employees that earn less than $15 per hour, according to the Personnel Office. Most of them work for Seattle Parks and Recreation or Seattle Center.
"I believe that Seattle should be a model, the city itself, for the rest of the employers in this city,” Murray said at a City Hall press conference Friday morning.
Personnel Director Susan Coskey and Budget Director Ben Noble — both Murray appointees — will be responsible for overseeing the pay-hike, and for exploring whether to make it retroactive to the beginning of 2014.
Coskey and Noble will work alongside Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee, a group of representatives from businesses, nonprofits, labor unions and the City Council who are charged with developing a plan for a citywide minimum wage increase.
Murray, however, was careful to note that the effort to increase wages for city workers “does not presuppose outcomes of the advisory committee.” Although the Mayor gave the committee four months to come up with its plan, he said the pay raise for city workers could probably be implemented more quickly. “Of course," he added, "it’s contingent upon council action as well.”
The Budget Office estimate factored in pay-increases for 617 positions whose wages are currently less than $15 per hour. It remains unclear how this increase would affect workers who are currently making more than $15 per hour. “There are obviously implications that happen in regards to pay scale,” said Murray. “That’s something we need to look at. And we need to particularly talk to those employees who belong to a union, and to their leaders about how we move forward on that.”
The city budget, the Mayor added, can handle the pay raise: “It is my belief based on preliminary discussions yesterday that it is within the city’s ability currently without raising revenue.”
Parks and Recreation currently employees 29 half- to full-time staff members and 227 temporary employees who make less than $15 per hour. Most of these workers also get some type of “premium pay,” which increases their wages by anywhere from $0.50 to $3.47 per hour. When premium pay is included, the lowest Parks and Recreation wage is $9.65 per hour. The city paid that amount to 20 temporary workers in 2013. As of November, the parks department had paid 35,473 hours to regular employees and 152,196 to temporary employees, who earned less than $15 per hour in 2013.
Parks' positions that pay less than $15 include maintenance aides, who earn either $13.89 or $14.48, and golf course groundskeepers, whose hourly wage is $13.75, according to figures in the 2013 city salary schedule.
Seattle Center, said spokesperson and former Budget Office Deputy Director Hall Walker, would probably be able to pass along the bulk of any new labor costs to its clients. The center hires between 120 and 150 ushers for major events, such as concerts at Key Arena. The salary schedule puts the hourly wage for an usher at $11.07; ticket sellers make $13.20.
Despite all the focus on the $15 minimum wage, Murray said that raising the pay floor, in itself, won't solve the problem of income inequality in Seattle. “No single strategy,” said the mayor, will "make this city affordable for low and working class and, actually, middle-income people."
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