Seattle’s City Council on June 2 approved an ordinance raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Some supporters of the increased minimum wage offered amendments that would have extended the minimum wage coverage and eliminated and/or shortened the phase-in time for the new minimum wage to become effective. The council voted down those amendments.
Early supporters of the $15 minimum wage expressed disappointment that the final version was watered down, but also pointed to the successful grassroots effort that will make Seattle the first city in the US to pay a minimum wage that comes close to being a livable wage.
The new minimum wage “is a testament to how working people can push back against the status quo of poverty, inequality, and injustice,” said City Council Member Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative. “The movement, starting with fast food workers nationwide, and pushed forward by (the union-backed ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Seattle’s suburb) SeaTac and 15 Now, is forcing business and the political establishment to accept raising our wages.”
The final version of the new minimum wage initiative is the product of Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Commission, which included representatives of business, labor, and non-profit organizations.
But the push for a $15 an hour minimum wage began last year when Sawant while running for a seat on the City Council made raising the minimum wage the centerpiece of her campaign.
Her election showed that there was strong support among voters for a $15 an hour minimum wage.
Shortly after her election victory, a grassroots organization, 15 Now, was organized to build a movement for a $15 an hour minimum wage.
15 Now canvassed neighborhoods, held rallies, and overcame a stealth campaign by restaurant and bar owners to torpedo the minimum wage increase.
The final version of the new minimum wage ordinance fell short of 15 Now’s original proposal.
The version passed by the City Council gives companies with 500 or more employees three years to reach $15 an hour. Those that provide health care benefits to employees have four years to reach $15.
On the positive side, all franchises of major chains such as McDonald’s will be covered even if they don’t employ 500 people locally.
Small businesses will have seven years to get to $15 an hour.
The final version also had a tip credit, which lowers the minimum wage for tipped workers. It also allows companies to pay young people and disabled workers a training wage less than the minimum wage.
The original 15 Now proposal would have had no phase-in period for big businesses.
” McDonald’s and Starbucks have no justification for keeping their workers in poverty for a day longer,” said Sawant.
Small businesses will have had three years to reach the new minimum wage.
There would have been no tip credit and no so-called training wage.
Despite what Sawant calls loopholes that watered down the ordinance, Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance is historic. At a time when wealth is steadily being transferred from the working class to the richest segment of the ruling class, the Seattle ordinance goes against this trend.
When the minimum wage becomes fully effective, 100,000 low wage workers will be lifted out of poverty, said Sawant. “Nearly $3 billion will be transferred to workers at the bottom of the wage scale over the next ten years.”
Jess Spear of 15 Now said that the victory in Seattle would not have been possible without the work and energy of low-wage workers across the US. The fast food strikes, the actions by Walmart workers, the growing national movement for a $15 an hour minimum wage laid the foundation for the success in Seattle, which in turn should be the next step toward building a stronger national movement for decent minimum wage.
“Our success here today reveals he potential to build 15 Now all across the US,” said Spear. “I urge each and every one of you to get organized and help us strengthen our movement.”