About 400 people rallied in Seattle on January 12 for a city ordinance that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Organizers called it a launch rally to “put Seattle’s establishment on notice: we want $15 and we want it NOW!”
The rally was organized by 15 Now, a Seattle based coalition organized to make sure that the city’s minimum wage gets raised to $15 and that the raise gets implemented immediately.
Seattle’s mayor-elect Ed Murray, who supports a $15 minimum wage, appointed a task force of business and labor leaders in December to determine how the city will increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Murray told Salon’s Josh Eidelson that he wants the task force to develop a $15 minimum wage ordinance that he could present to the City Council in four months. He also said that he was willing to be flexible about how to get to $15 an hour.
But flexibility was not on the minds of those who rallied for $15 Now.
“They’ve already started talking about phasing it in over many, many years,” said Kshama Sawant, the newly elected socialist City Council member. “We don’t want any phasing in.”
Sawant, a leader of the Socialist Alternative, ran on a platform that promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, implement rent control, and tax millionaires to fund public transportation, education, and other public services.
Sawant has also been pushing Mayor Murray to expand minimum wage coverage in other ways.
Murray announced earlier in January that he had signed an executive order instructing city department heads to develop plans for paying all city workers at least $15 an hour. When those plans become effective, about 600 city workers will get raises.
Shortly after the announcement, Sawant issued a media statement urging the mayor to extend the $15 minimum wage to workers who work the city’s subcontractors.
“I appeal to Mayor Murray to insist that the thousands of city subcontractor employees not covered by today’s order also be raised to a minimum of $15,” said Sawant in the statement.
In the same statement, Sawant said that the most important reason that leaders like Murray are taking steps to increase the minimum wage is the growing grassroots movement for improving pay for low-wage workers.
She pointed to the recent strikes of fast-food and other low-wage workers and a recent referendum victory in the Seattle suburb of SeaTac that raised the minimum wage for workers in that suburb to $15 an hour.
The referendum victory was marked by a people-to-people campaign that saw workers like Abdirahman Abdullahi, a Somali immigrant who works for Hertz, the car rental company, go door-to-door in working class neighborhoods explaining the referendum and urging other workers to vote.
The campaign was largely funded by labor unions, primarily SEIU and the Teamsters. Working Washington, a coalition of community, civil rights, people of faith, and unions, also made significant funding and organizational contributions.
Like the SeaTac referendum campaign, 15 Now has close ties with organized labor. It has been endorsed by SEIU, AFSCME Local 1488, IBEW Local 46, the International Union of Operating Engineers, and SEIU Healthcare NW.
In addition to labor, 15 Now has a wide range of community support including Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, Transit Riders Union, Somali American Public Affairs Council, Washington Community Action Network, and Socialist Alternative.
15 Now also has plans to expand its campaign to the national stage.
“A $15 minimum wage in Seattle will lay the groundwork for workers, activists, and unions across the country to fight for a living wage,” reads a statement on the coalition’s website.
Sensing that the demand for a $15 minimum wage may be growing, opponents have been raising unusual concern for the poor by arguing that such an increase would eliminate jobs and ultimately hurt low-wage workers.
But others are arguing that such a boost would generate, not eliminate jobs.
Nick Hanauer, a successful venture capitalist living in Seattle, recently wrote in Bloomberg that a minimum wage of $15 an hour would inject $450 billion a year into the economy, giving low-wage workers more purchasing power and ultimately benefitting businesses that sell goods to them.
Dean Baker, noted economist with the Center for Economic Policy Research, back in September wrote that,
A full-time worker who sees her pay go from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour will have another $15,000 to spend each year. This money may go to hire childcare workers for her children, home health care workers for parents, or be spent in thousands of other ways. Higher pay in the fast-food industry might lead to an economy in which we have fewer people working in the fast-food industry but many more people working in other industries.