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Seattle City Council panel OKs $15 minimum wage, delays start date

Seattle's proposed $15 an hour law faces a long list of changes Thursday, including a training wage and a delay in the start date. (AP Photo)

An ordinance that increases the minimum wage in Seattle has been approved by a City Council committee, moving it forward to a full council vote next week.

The whole ordinance, even with several contentious amendments, was approved unanimously by the City Council members present – seven of nine total – in a boisterous meeting on Thursday.

However, City Council members approved a delay to implementation of the ordinance, from January 1, 2015 to April 1, 2015.

Boos and hisses followed that 4-3 vote. “We’ve never been hissed at before,” said Councilmember Sally Clark.

“Seattle, and other cities, are taking direct action to close our nation’s huge income gap because the federal and state governments have failed to do so. Seattle’s new law opens the way for many workers to earn enough to meet their basic needs. It will raise their standard of living and by putting more dollars into our economy, stimulate greater business opportunities. By significantly raising the minimum wage, Seattle’s prosperity will be shared by more people and create a sustainable model for continued growth,” City Councilman Nick Licata said.

The ordinance came from recommendations made by an advisory group of labor, business and nonprofit representatives convened by Mayor Ed Murray. After more than four months of discussion, the group presented its plan earlier this month. Members of the advisory committee urged the City Council to pass the plan as it was presented without changes.

Murray’s plan proposes 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, including a consideration for tips and health-care costs during the first five years of the phase-in process.

KING 5 reports the council struck down an amendment, 6-1, that Sawant introduced to make the minimum wage increase begin sooner for businesses with more than 500 employees.

Boos filled the air following that vote and a third time when the council voted down another amendment proposed by Sawant to remove tips from minimum wage totals.

“Any kind of teenage wage or sub-minimum wage goes against the principles of workers standing together,” said Councilmember Kshama Sawant. “The sub-minimum wage is demanded and liked by businesses because it allows them to bring down wages in general. It’s harmful for workers as a whole.”

The full City Council will vote on the ordinance on Monday, but that may not be the end of the minimum-wage debate in Seattle.

A group called 15 Now is collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would amend the city’s charter. Its proposal would create an immediate wage hike for large businesses and a three-year phase-in for organizations with fewer than 250 full-time employees. At the meeting on Thursday, group members said they already had 10,000 signatures. They need more than 30,000 to make it on the ballot.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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