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Seattle mayor unveils $15 minimum wage plan; Sawant promises added pressure

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said workers in the city of Seattle are going to get a raise as he laid out a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 in the city. (KIRO Radio/Tim Haeck)

Seattle’s mayor says workers in the city are going to get a raise.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced Thursday a proposal to establish a $15 minimum wage in the city of Seattle.

“This is a historic moment for Seattle,” said Murray. “It is setting a standard for what progressives and what a progressive city can do, what we can do to change the middle class.”

Seattle’s Socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant agreed the mayor’s proposal for raising the minimum wage to $15 is a historic moment for the city. Listen to her news conference.

However, she said the proposal is a watered-down plan that doesn’t reflect what Seattle workers want.

A committee of business, labor and non-profit representatives put together by the mayor has been working to outline just how implementation of a $15 minimum wage would work. The mayor said 21 of the 25 members of the committee came to agreement on the proposal.

The proposal calls for a phase-in of an increase in the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next seven years.

The mayor said for small businesses, defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees, the minimum wage would be raised over a period of seven years. For these small businesses, the mayor said $15 could be reached in the first five years through a combination of health care, tips and wages. This piece he said would eventually be phased out.

For large businesses, those with over 500 employees, both local and national companies, the minimum wage would be required to reach $15 within three years. For those employees who receive health care, their wages would be required to reach the $15 an hour mark in four years.

The mayor said after the $15 minimum wage has been reached, further increases would be tied to the consumer price index, and no industry, organization or class of employees would be exempt except where restricted by federal or state law.

“I don’t support phasing in for big business,” said Sawant. “McDonald’s and Starbucks have no justification to keep their workers in poverty for a day longer. For workers in Seattle, 11 years is a long wait for a decent wage. Every year of phase-in means yet another year in poverty for a worker.”

Sawant said she does not support tip credit and that it is a cause of poverty for tipped workers in 43 states where it exists.

Sawant’s proposal, that she said was never voted on, had no phase-in for big business, three-year phase-in for small businesses and nonprofits, and had no tip credit or health care credit.

With the proposal, the mayor said in four years a minimum wage worker in Seattle will earn over $6,000 more a year than workers in the rest of the state.

“Cities have often been the incubators of democracy,” said Murray. “Seattle I think will prove itself when this process is finished in council, to once again be an incubator of democracy, to be a city that once again does great things by showing how we as a city can lead the conversation in the nation to address this growing problem in our society, the growing problem of income inequality.”

The mayor’s plan now goes to the City Council for approval. Sawant promised to keep the pressure on in the coming days and weeks.

“March with me in the May Day demonstrations, with 15 Now, and with our immigrant brothers and sisters,” said Sawant.

Dori Monson has his own proposal for workers that want $15 an hour in Seattle’s Jamie Skorheim and Stephanie Klein, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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