While some see Mayor Ed Murray's proposal to raise Seattle's minimum wage to $15 as a compromise, others see it as a bit of a cop out. Both of those views were on display as a City Council committee began digging into the details of the plan during a meeting on Monday.
Councilmember Nick Licata, who served on an advisory committee Murray appointed to help craft the proposal, framed the mayor's plan as a step toward progressive legislation, which has broad support among business and labor groups. Most other advisory group members described it along similar lines. But Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who was also on the panel, took jabs at the mayor's plan, saying that it had been diluted to appease business interests and that it does not increase the pay floor quickly enough.
If implemented in its current form, the plan would raise Seattle's minimum wage to the highest of any major city in the nation and would be Murray's first major policy accomplishment as mayor. Despite her misgivings, even Sawant acknowledged that the mayor's proposal would usher in the strongest minimum wage law in the United States, and said the advisory committee’s work was “incredible” and “historic.” But the Council has no easy task.
The plan is rife with technical details, and representatives from business groups told the Council on Monday that their members will likely step forward with concerns.
“If you leave the negotiating table with both sides being a little unhappy it’s a pretty good deal,” David Freiboth told the City Council's Select Committee on on Minimum Wage and Income Inequality. Freiboth is executive secretary of the M.L. King County Labor Council and was a member of the mayor's 24-person advisory committee, which included representatives from business, labor and nonprofit groups, as well as Councilmembers Licata, Sawant and Bruce Harrell.
The mayor's plan phases in the wage differently for smaller and larger-sized businesses and would go into effect in 2015. Businesses with 500 or more employees would be required to pay their workers $11 per hour at that time. For larger businesses that provide their employees with health care the phase-in period would last four years. By 2018 they would be required to pay their workers $15 per hour. The phase-in period would last three years for large businesses that do not provide health care, hitting $15 in 2017.
For smaller businesses, the minimum wage would reach $15 after seven years, in 2021. Smaller businesses would also be required to guarantee workers "minimum compensation," which includes tips and health insurance. Minimum compensation, including tips and healthcare, would rise to $15 per hour in 2019.
Under Mayor Murray's proposed plan, wages would rise at different rates for larger and smaller businesses. The "total compensation" figures in Schedule C show the amount that employers with fewer than 500 employees must pay their workers including tips and health care benefits. To be counted toward total compensation, tips and health care benefits need to appear on an employee's paycheck. Source: Seattle Mayor's Office
“The words ‘minimum compensation’ is a new notion that’s been introduced by business lobbyists,” Sawant said on Monday as she critiqued the plan. The $15 minimum wage was the Socialist councilmember's signature issue during her run for office last year.
During Monday's meeting Sawant presented parts of her own plan for raising the city's minimum wage. It would increase the wage to $15 in 2015 for businesses with 250 or more employees and ramp the wage up to that level for workers at smaller businesses by 2018. The plan mirrors a charter amendment backed by activists from the organization 15 Now. The group is collecting signatures to get the measure on November's ballot.
Under the mayor’s plan, after each wage category reaches $15, hourly pay would increase annually based on the consumer price index. The Mayor's Office estimated the CPI at 2.4 percent. A chart included with the proposal shows that by 2025, the minimum wage for all businesses in Seattle, along with total compensation for workers at small businesses, would be $18.13.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!