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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 9 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 19
Minimum wage plan goes to City Council
Section One
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Minimum wage plan goes to City Council

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Seattle City Council took its first look at Mayor Ed Murray's compromise minimum wage plan at a hearing on May 5.

While technically a 'select committee' to receive the recommendation on a $15-an-hour minimum wage from the Mayor's Income Inequality Advisory Committee, all nine City Council members were in attendance.

On May 1, Mayor Ed Murray announced that his committee had reached agreement on a compromise plan to phase in a $15 minimum wage over a period of years - three for businesses with more than 500 employees and seven for smaller businesses.

For some employees of smaller businesses, tips and employer-paid healthcare benefits can be counted toward the minimum wage goal, but only in the first years of the plan, and that system will be phased out as the $15 wage is phased in.

After the $15-an-hour goal is achieved, minimum wages will be linked to the CPI (Consumer Price Index), so that wages will increase automatically as prices go up.

While Council member Kshama Sawant, who made the $15 wage the centerpiece of her campaign for office, called the advisory committee's plan 'watered-down' when it was first announced, at the hearing she called the plan 'good.'

Nevertheless, she made it clear she will continue to support the idea of a November ballot initiative to establish a $15 wage by popular vote rather than action by the City Council.

Sawant and her Socialist Alternative party are backing a group called 15Now, which grew out of her 2013 City Council campaign. Some 15Now supporters have labeled the compromise plan a 'fake 15.'

Labor unions and community groups have formed 15 for Seattle, a coalition supporting the advisory committee proposal.

The hearing was - surprisingly - not packed with red-shirted 15Now supporters. In fact, Sawant's group was outnumbered by SEIU members in their signature purple shirts. David Rolf, President of SEIU 775NW and co-chair of the Mayor's advisory committee, is an enthusiastic supporter of the compromise plan offered up by the committee.

During the brief public testimony segment, Washington Community Action Network Executive Director Will Pitz, and Joshua Welter of the Mainstreet Alliance, an organization of progressive neighborhood businesses, also spoke in favor of the committee's plan, indicating that the compromise went a long way toward alleviating the anxiety of non-profits and small businesses over the jump to a $15-an-hour wage.

After the brief public comment period, a panel of City staff and members of the advisory committee offered comments and were questioned by Council members.

Council members Sally Bagshaw and Tom Rasmussen asked about a so-called 'training wage' - a less-than-minimum wage that would be offered to 'youth 17 or 18 years old, entering the workforce,' as Rasmussen explained the concept.

The idea was promptly rejected by the labor side of the panel, who said 'training wages' would violate the agreement reached by the advisory committee.

Under questioning by Council member Nick Licata, who was himself a member of the Mayor's advisory committee, business panelists David Watkins of the Seattle Hotel Association and Bob Donegan of the Restaurant Alliance admitted their organizations had not yet signed on to the compromise proposal.

'Our members may have concerns,' Watkins said, 'and they will make those known to the City Council.'

Outside the Council chambers, other members of the Mayor's advisory committee said that both Watkins and Donegan had voted for the compromise proposal and they hoped that the business interests they represent would not undermine it.

Sawant introduced a chart showing that once wage increases are adjusted for inflation, the $15-an-hour goal will take longer to meet than seven years. Licata countered that even if inflation is taken into account, Seattle's minimum wage will still be twice the federal minimum and half-again as much as the state minimum wage.

All panelists agreed that franchise operations like McDonald's came under the definition of 'Big Business' and would be required to phase in a $15 wage in three years.

The City Council plans to hold additional public hearings on the minimum wage plan, with more time for public comment, the first one being May 13 in Rainier Beach.

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