Seattle Wins $15 Minimum Wage - Will Your Town Be Next?
On June 2, the Seattle City Council approved a new ordinance that will raise the minimum wage in the city to $15 per hour—the highest in the United States.
Seattle’s economy is fueled by high-tech industries and cutting-edge products produced by some the most famous corporate names in the nation: Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing.
But the cost of living in the city is high and rising. People who work in low-wage nonprofessional jobs here—restaurant workers, for example—find it increasingly difficult to afford the rising cost of food and housing in the city. As is true across the United States, many low-wage workers have to supplement their full-time salaries with government assistance like food stamps in order to have both rent and groceries.
Momentum for the new minimum-wage ordinance began in SeaTac, Wash., a small blue-collar city south of Seattle that’s home to the region’s major airport. In November 2013, voters in SeaTac approved a ballot initiative raising the minimum wage for airport workers to $15 an hour. The voters’ approval of Proposition 1 encouraged the minimum-wage movement in Seattle. So did the concurrent campaign for Seattle City Council of Kshama Sawant, a socialist who ran—and won—on the promise to work for a $15 minimum wage. The energy behind her campaign pulled in mayoral candidate Ed Murray, who was also elected in November after promising to support raising the minimum wage.
One of Mayor Murray’s first acts in office was to convene an Income Inequality Advisory Committee of representatives from business, labor and community groups, charged with delivering a plan for raising the minimum wage in Seattle. The final draft of the ordinance they negotiated makes some concessions to business interests, including a phase-in of the $15 minimum wage. Businesses with more than 500 employees will be required to pay workers $11 per hour by April 2015, rising in increments to $15 by 2017. Larger businesses that provide health care for employees will be required to pay $15 per hour by 2018.
But despite the phase-in and several exceptions to a blanket minimum wage, less than a year after her election Kshama declared the city’s new minimum wage ordinance a victory.
If so, it’s a victory shared by all who pushed for it. Most visible were young activists in their twenties and thirties who moved directly from Kshama’s campaign to support her new minimum-wage activist group, 15Now, launched in January 2014.
15Now held marches and demonstrated in front of fast-food restaurants. Their demands for a $15 minimum wage were reported extensively by local news, including network TV affiliates.
By the time Mayor Murray and the national municipal policy network Local Progress hosted an income-inequality symposium it appeared that a $15 minimum wage for Seattle was an idea whose time had come. City council members from San Jose, San Diego, Chicago and New York City spoke at the symposium about the struggles of low-income people and the need to raise the minimum wage in their communities.
Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, West Virginia and the District of Columbia have all passed minimum wage increases this year. The minimum-wage campaign movement includes 15Now chapters spreading to more than 20 cities across the U.S.
Breaking news: The state of Vermont approved legislation to increase their minimum wage to $10.50.
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