MinWage
The Seattle City Council has approved an ordinance to phase in a $15 hourly minimum wage, the highest in the nation. (KIRO Radio photo)

Seattle City Council approves $15 minimum wage

The Seattle City Council has unanimously (9-0) approved an ordinance to phase in a $15 hourly minimum wage, the highest in the nation.

"Our victory is not complete, but we have fought until the last day, the last hour, against all the loopholes demanded by business," Socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant said before the vote.

The council, set in front of packed chambers, voted down several amendments that included moving the start date to Jan. 1, 2015 and eliminating a phase-in for big businesses.

John Curley: If you don't think the employer is going to cut people's hours or cut them out entirely, you are nuts.

Tom Tangney: We're trying, as a society, to decide what's a livable wage to allow people to not starve and at the same time, keep the economy going.

Jason Rantz: This is fantastic news for workers with actual experience who will now come to Seattle from outside the city to take these jobs, making life tougher for the current minimum wage employees who can barely afford to live in Seattle. Cheers to raises you didn't actually earn.

Ben Shapiro: You will end up seeing a loss in population in the Seattle area. You'll see employment not increase in Seattle, but in the surrounding areas.

David Boze: They're not interested in income equality. They're interested in their redistributionist policies to combat the popularity in the Seattle area of the open socialist - closeted communist - Kshama Sawant.

Supporters celebrated at City Hall with a dance party, cake and ice cream, and people waving signs that said 'Good Work, Seattle!'

The ordinance was drafted by an advisory group of labor, business and nonprofit representatives convened by Mayor Ed Murray.

The measure, which would take effect on April 1, 2015, includes a phase-in of the wage increase over several years, with a slower process for small businesses. The plan gives businesses with more than 500 employees nationally at least three years to phase in the increase. Those providing health insurance will have four years to complete the move. Smaller organizations will be given seven years.

"We'll come back to the questions of tip penalty, the long-phase in, the training wage," said Sawant. "What was lost through corporate loopholes is a reminder to us that outcomes are determined by the balance of forces. It is a reminder that we need to continue to build an even more powerful movement."

After more than four months of discussion, the advisory group presented its plan last month. Last week, the council delayed implementation by a few months and approved a sub-minimum wage for teenagers, a provision opposed by labor representatives.

Although some local businesses have come out in support of the measure, a group of restaurant owners oppose it, saying it would force them to scuttle expansion plans, decrease hiring and possibly cut service hours.

Nick Musser, executive chef and general manager of the Icon Grill in downtown Seattle, doesn't think the wage credit for tips should phase out after seven years and finds the differentiation between large and big companies irrelevant.

"The reality is that the larger companies are going to ratchet up their wages and we're going to have to play at that level anyway," said Musser, whose restaurant employs between 50 and 60 people, depending on the time of year. Most of them are paid minimum wage.

Ubah Aden, 40, a Seattle home health worker who says she now earns $10.95 an hour, is looking forward to the way a higher wage will help her support her three children. But she also likes the idea of Seattle setting an example for the rest of the nation.

She said she and her three kids are living with her brother because she can't afford an apartment of her own even though she works full time. "This will make changes to myself and also a lot of other people in my shoes."

San Francisco currently has the nation's highest hourly minimum wage at $10.74.

The current minimum wage in Washington state is $9.32 an hour.

Earlier this year, Minnesota raised the state's guaranteed wage by more than $3, to $9.50, by 2016. California, Connecticut and Maryland also have passed laws increasing their respective wages to $10 or more in coming years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Stephanie Klein, MyNorthwest.com Editor
Stephanie joined the MyNorthwest.com team in February 2008. She has built the site into a two-time National Edward R. Murrow Award winner (Best Radio Website 2010, 2012).
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