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Kshama Sawant blasts Seattle mayor’s delayed plan for $15 minimum wage

Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant addresses a news conference on a proposal to increase the minimum wage in the city Thursday, April 24, 2014, in Seattle. The Mayor Ed Murray earlier said his advisory group of business, labor, non-profits and other representatives have not yet agreed on a plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said he’ll extend the deadline for a committee to come up with a proposal for raising the city’s minimum wage before announcing a plan of his own. But Socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant said the mayor’s effort has already failed.

Murray had previously said he would unveil his own plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour Thursday if the two dozen member Income Inequality Committee couldn’t reach agreement on a plan.

But at the last minute, he announced the delay before a packed room at City Hall. Murray said a slight majority of the panel members had reached agreement on six principles, but he worries the fragile coalition could fall apart.

“I don’t believe we yet have a good cross section of business and labor and nonprofits to see it as a viable proposal,” he said. “We want the kind of strong vote that actually indicates strong civic consensus in our city.”

Murray said raising the minimum wage remains a particular challenge to small businesses, nonprofits, and immigrant-owned businesses.

“I’d rather be late and get it right than rush and get it wrong,” he said.

The principles agreed to by the committee include raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, with the increase phased in for nonprofits and small businesses, likely those with 500 or fewer workers.

Murray said the panel also agrees in principle that future increases should be based on the Consumer Price Index, there should be no exemptions, and there must be strong enforcement and worker-rights education. Some benefits should be phased out as the higher minimum wage is phased in, Murray said.

Some of the sticking points include the length of a phase-in and whether tips, benefits and other forms of compensation should be taken into account.

Murray said he expects a resolution in the next several weeks, whether it’s a proposal from the group or his own.

“I’m probably less optimistic than I was this morning, but I still remain optimistic,” he said. “You know, I think we’re going to get there one way or another.”

But City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a member of the committee, calls the effort a failure.

“Fundamentally, this is a process that left out 70 percent of the voters who want a strong measure and had business – which does not want to fight for 15 – in the committee.”

Sawant said while she’d support a proposal if it includes large businesses paying $15 an hour starting Jan. 1 and no credit for tips and other benefits in calculating wage, she’s doubtful it will happen.

“The committee is done. It is over,” she said.

Sawant said the goal now is to continue building on the grass-roots effort that got her elected last year. She and the Socialist Alternative Party is leading a campaign known as 15 Now that is considering whether to move forward with signature gathering to place their own minimum wage measure on the ballot.

“If you are a low wage worker, today is not your day,” she said. “We have waited for a proposal that may never come … the lesson from the committee is that we have to make sure that workers get what they need,” said Sawant.

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