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Historic wage win in Seattle

Mon, Jul 21, 2014

Workers, activists and campaigners in Seattle celebrated June 2 when the city council voted unanimously to establish a new minimum wage of $15 per hour by the year 2021 – the highest in the U.S. and more than twice the current federal rate of $7.25 per hour.

People involved with the group 15 Now celebrate the passage of a phased-in $15-an-hour minimum wage at Seattle City Hall June 2, 2014.Photo: Alex Garland

People involved with the group 15 Now celebrate the passage of a phased-in $15-an-hour minimum wage at Seattle City Hall June 2, 2014.Photo: Alex Garland

What Seattle activists and elected officials accomplished was a compromise. City Councilmember Kshama Sawant took office on a platform of creating $15-an-hour minimum wage for workers starting in 2015. Instead, the law phases the wages in over seven years. Beginning April 2015, businesses with fewer than 500 employees must pay at least $10 an hour, increasing each year until 2021 when the wages must be at least $15 an hour. Businesses with more than 500 employees must pay at least $11 an hour beginning in April 2015, increasing each year until 2018, when the wages must be at least $15 an hour.

The legislation allows the director of the city’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services to set a training wage for people younger than 18. The law also allows employers to include tips in the minimum wage until 2025.

Activists and businesses are still discussing turning to voters to overturn the law, either establishing a $15 minimum wage sooner or capping the minimum wage at $12.50.

At a Dec. 5, 2013 march, newly elected Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, a Socialist, vowed to establish a higher minimum wage, either through Seattle City Council or a ballot initiative. Photo: Alex Garland

At a Dec. 5, 2013 march, newly elected Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, a Socialist, vowed to establish a higher minimum wage, either through Seattle City Council or a ballot initiative. Photo: Alex Garland

Several things laid the groundwork for the minimum wage to pass.
In 2012, the council passed a law requiring businesses to provide employees with paid sick leave. In 2013, the city council passed a law banning businesses from prescreening employees based on their criminal histories. A groundswell of community sup- port also pushed the $15-an-hour minimum wage into the local political conversation.
In June 2013, hundreds of fast-food workers went on strike, demanding $15 an hour. In November, voters in the city of SeaTac passed a $15-an- hour minimum wage for people working at airports and in hospitality businesses. The Washington Supreme Court is still determining whether the law applies to people who work at SeaTac Airport, which is under the jurisdiction of the Port of Seattle.

Meanwhile, Occupy-inspired Sawant defeated a long-time incumbent on a $15-an-hour minimum wage platform.

Sawant’s campaign for city council influenced other political races, including former Mayor Mike McGinn and his opponent, Ed Murray. The mayoral candidates each threw their support behind a higher minimum wage.

Aaron Burkhalter

www.street-papers.org / Real Change – USA

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