by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a breakthrough in negotiations to raise Seattle's minimum wage to $15 per hour at a press conference on May 1.
'Seattle workers are getting a raise,' Murray said. 'Throughout this process, I've had two goals: to get Seattle's low-wage workers to $15-per-hour while also supporting our employers, and to avoid a costly battle at the ballot box between competing initiatives. We have a deal that I believe accomplishes both goals.'
The plan calls for a phased-in $15 per hour wage - over a three-year period for businesses with more than 500 employees, and a seven-year period for smaller businesses.
Once the $15 per hour level is reached, the minimum wage will be linked to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), so that workers will get automatic raises as prices go up.
No industry or category of employees will be exempt from any provisions of the deal.
For some employees of smaller businesses, employer-paid healthcare contributions and tips can be counted toward the minimum wage goal, but only during the first years of the plan, and that system will be phased out as the $15 per hour wage is phased in.
The mayor's proposal now goes to the City Council. Council member Nick Licata, who also spoke at the event, noted that the Council likes to 'leave its fingerprints on legislation,' but added that he would work to 'pass this proposal with a minimum amount of tinkering.'
Supermajority support mayor's proposal
The announcement resurrected a process that seemed all but dead the previous Friday. After an April 24 press conference at which Murray said he was 'close' to brokering a deal between business, labor, and community leaders on his Income Inequality Advisory Committee, negotiations seemed to break down.
City Council member Kshama Sawant sent Murray an angry letter on April 25, accusing him of trying an end run around his own advisory committee.
'I do not agree with tip and health care deductions, or to wait to include cost of living adjustments until the end of a phase-in period. I also do not agree with a phase-in for big businesses like McDonald's and Starbucks,' Sawant wrote, demanding a committee vote on the proposals.
Nevertheless, committee co-chairs David Rolf of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775NW and developer Howard Wright said that the recommendations were supported by 21 of the 24 committee members.
Only businessman Craig Dawson voted 'no.' Chamber of Commerce President Maud Daudon abstained because the Chamber's bylaws did not allow her to call a board meeting in time to get authorization to vote. Council member Sawant did not reply to a request for her vote.
Murray had stipulated that he wanted a supermajority of the committee to endorse any proposal.
Rolf, a veteran of 'countless' negotiations, said the process of making a deal was 'very intense, very difficult. About as complex a negotiation as you could construct.'
'In most labor negotiations you have only two parties,' he explained. 'Sometimes you might have multi-employer negotiations, or multi-union negotiations, but that's rare. Here you had 24 parties negotiating, each with their own constituency that they had to answer to.'
Both Rolf and Wright praised Murray's leadership and perseverance in pushing all sides to make a deal.
A 'tough sell' for some in labor
Besides Rolf, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21 Political Director Sarah Cherin also endorsed the deal.
'This is probably the most progressive minimum wage law in the country,' she told SGN after Murray's press conference. 'UFCW will definitely encourage the City Council to support it.'
Unlike Rolf and Cherin, who represented their respective unions on the mayor's advisory committee, Martin Luther King County Labor Council (MLKCLC) Executive Secretary Dave Freiboth represents 150 union locals, some of them including tipped workers.
'It will be a tough sell,' Freiboth told SGN, because of the complicated rules that apply to tipped workers in the first few years of the plan. Freiboth voted for the Mayor's proposal.
'We have a resolution,' Freiboth explained, referring to a January 15 MLKCLC resolution endorsing a $15 an hour minimum wage, but opposing so-called 'tip credit' - a business-backed scheme to count tips as part of an employee's base wage.
'I think [Murray's proposal] is in the spirit of the resolution,' Freiboth continued, 'but I have to bring it to my executive board, and they will decide if it fits with what I was empowered to negotiate.'
In a statement issued only hours after Murray made his plan public, UNITE HERE Local 8, which represents many tipped workers in the hospitality and food service industries, tentatively endorsed it, but asked the City Council to change the rules applying to healthcare plans.
'Thousands of hospitality workers will benefit from the proposed ordinance and Seattle will be stronger for it,' said Erik Van Rossum, President of Local 8. 'To make it even better, we are looking for a win-win solution that also protects full family health insurance for hotel workers.'
UNITE HERE's healthcare plan is 'not-for-profit and owned by workers, not a multi-billion dollar insurance company,' the union's statement notes.
Sawant will go ahead with initiative
In a separate press conference on the City Council floor of City Hall, Council member Kshama Sawant insisted that her supporters would continue to push for an initiative on the minimum wage.
While not rejecting Murray's proposal outright, she said her 15Now organization would 'keep the pressure up' by collecting signatures for a possible Charter Amendment on the November ballot.
'This is a recommendation,' she said about Murray's plan, 'not the only recommendation! The process is not over yet. Signature gathering is a very important part of the process.'
'What is the justification for the phase-in?' she asked. 'Business is trying to water down 15!'
Besides the 15Now initiative, a pro-business group calling itself One Seattle had also threatened to put a minimum wage measure on the November ballot. Many members of Murray's advisory committee said that their reluctance to seeing multiple competing initiatives on the November ballot was one of their motives for coming to an agreement.
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