Seattle mayor unveils plan for $15 minimum wage


by DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP / Associated Press and KING 5 News

Posted on May 1, 2014 at 7:28 AM

Updated Friday, May 2 at 2:56 AM

SEATTLE  -- Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Thursday proposed a phased-in increase of the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next seven years. But, one of the strongest voices in the battle is not satisfied with the plan.

Under the mayor's plan, businesses with more than 500 employees nationally will have at least three years to phase in the increase. Those with health care insurance will have four years to complete the phase-in.

Smaller organizations will be given seven years, with the new wage including a consideration for tips and health care costs over the first five years.

The mayor said 21 of 25 members of his minimum wage task force, which included representatives of business, labor and community groups, voted in favor of the plan.

"I think that this is an historic moment for the city of Seattle," he said. "We're going to decrease the poverty rate."

Howard Wright, CEO of the Seattle Hospitality Group and a co-chairman of the task force, said he thought the plan would have support from the business community.

"While I know not everyone in the employer community will be satisfied, I believe it is the best outcome given the political environment."

Seattle City Councilwman Kshama Sawant, a Socialist who campaigned last year on raising the minimum wage, signaled that the announcement was a result of grassroots efforts. But, Sawant said she wasn't pleased with what she called a plan that was "watered down" by businesses.

“While business has lost the public battle on 15, they got a seat at the table to get their wish list while low-wage workers were left out,” said Sawant.

Sawant said she plans to push the City Council to change the proposal to eliminate the phase-in for big business and cut the phase-in for small business to three years.

“I don’t support phasing in for big business. McDonald’s and Starbucks have no justification to keep their workers in poverty for a day longer,” said Sawant.

Washington state already has the nation's highest minimum wage at $9.32 an hour. According to a chart prepared by the mayor's office, many Seattle workers will reach $11 an hour by 2015. The state's minimum wage is scheduled to be $9.54 at that time.

Once the $15 wage is reached, future increases will be tied to the consumer price index.

Murray called the plan a compromise and dismissed concerns that he would face opposition at the city's May Day events, which include a "15 Now" theme.

"I wanted 15, but I wanted to do 15 smart," he said.

The plan now goes to the City Council for discussion. Council member Nick Licata, a member of the task force that came up with the plan, said he would work to get the proposal approved with minimal tinkering.

Labor leaders congratulated the mayor for starting a national conversation.

"Raising Seattle's minimum wage to $15 reaches far beyond the 100,000 workers who will benefit with the city limits," said David Rolf, president of SEIU 775. "Today, Seattle workers send a clarion call to all working people in America."