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Seattle leaders reach deal to raise minimum wage to $15

Mayor Ed Murray hailed the agreement as a victory for working people, but the councilmember most associated with the $15 campaign vowed to vote against it.
Joelle Craft (C) holds a sign during a rally and strike aimed at the fast-food industry and the minimum wage in Seattle, Washington, Aug. 29, 2013.
Joelle Craft (C) holds a sign during a rally and strike aimed at the fast-food industry and the minimum wage in Seattle, Washington, Aug. 29, 2013.

Labor leaders, business leaders and city officials in Seattle have reached an agreement to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 per hour, Mayor Ed Murray announced on Thursday. The deal was assembled by the mayor's 24-person Income Inequality Advisory Committee, a group which includes union representatives, city council members, and members of business groups such as the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

“Seattle workers are getting a raise,” said Murray at a Thursday press conference. “Throughout this process, I’ve had two goals: to get Seattle’s low-wage workers to $15-per-hour while also supporting our employers, and to avoid a costly battle at the ballot box between competing initiatives. We have a deal that I believe accomplishes both goals.”

The deal includes some key concessions to business, including a staggered phase-in for the wage hike. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees will get to gradually raise their wage to $15 over the next seven years. For the next five years, those businesses will be able to count tips and employer-provided health care contributions toward wages. The business group OneSeattle had lobbied the city government to permanently factor "total compensation"—including benefits, tips, job training and even uniforms—into the $15 wage requirement.

A Thursday statement from OneSeattle thanked the mayor and his work but said the group had not yet decided whether to endorse the committee's proposal.

"We are now reviewing the Mayor’s proposal, and we will determine how best to proceed with supporting a policy that works for Seattle," according to the statement. "We look forward to participating in further dialogue.” 

One member of the committee, City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, made clear that she opposed the new minimum wage proposal in a press conference held shortly after the mayor's remarks. Sawant, a self-described socialist, is perhaps more closely identified with the $15 minimum wage campaign than any other individual.

"This proposal does not live up to the wishes of Seattle workers," she said. "That is why I vote no on this recommendation."

Her objections to the proposal focused on the gradual phase-in for businesses, as well as their ability to deduct tips and health care benefits from wages. Business which employ over 500 workers are required to raise their wages up to $15 per hour within the next four years; Sawant replied that this was not soon enough, insisting, "McDonald's and Starbucks have no justification to keep their workers in poverty for a day longer."

A couple of weeks ago, activists involved with the $15 minimum wage campaign filed a ballot initiative which, if approved, would raise the minimum wage within three years, with no carve-out for tips or benefits. Philip Locker, Sawant's former campaign manager and an activist associated with the 15 Now campaign, confirmed that the group would continue to push its own ballot initiative.

The neighboring town of SeaTac, Wash., already has a $15 minimum wage law on the books, making it the city with the highest minimum wage in the United States.