15Now decides to pursue signatures for charter amendment

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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The group pushing for a $15-an-hour minimum wage voted Saturday to start collecting the 30,957 signatures needed to get a charter amendment on the November ballot.

“It is going to really inject new energy, fresh energy into the movement,” said Kshama Sawant, the Seattle City Councilmember at the forefront of the campaign.

After submitting eight variations of their proposal a few weeks ago, the members of 15Now chose the one they would like to pursue. The hundreds in attendance Saturday decided to forgo possible ballot initiatives in favor of a charter amendment that would be more difficult to overturn.

In the proposed charter amendment, big businesses would begin paying employees a minimum of $15 an hour beginning January 1, 2015.

Small businesses and non-profits would start paying $11 an hour in January, move up to $12.25 an hour in 2016, $13.50 in 2017, to catch up to the set minimum wage in 2018.

15Now volunteers will start to collect signatures by early July to meet the deadline for the November ballot.

This charter amendment, however, is different from the groups other filings in two ways:

First, it excludes franchises from the small business category. It defines a small business as one with fewer than 250 full-time employees, or the equivalent; Second, there is a special provision only for members of the hospitality union, Unite Here Local 8.

“Our members have a unique relationship with the boss, which means they can bargain for how the pot of money is spent,” said Sarah Warren, the vice president of Unite Here Local 8.

That pot of money includes what most call a base wage, plus an amount going toward health insurance, paid lunch time, pension, etc.

Warren said union members currently receive a very good health care plan, which covers 90 percent of costs. Even employees who work 20 hours a week are eligible.

“We didn’t want the unintended consequence to be that that gets stripped away,” Warren said.

Members will have the option to bargain to keep that, even if the base wage is slightly lower than $15 an hour.

Warren said they still fully support the 15Now campaign.

Paula Lukaszek, president of the Washington Federation of State Employees Local 1488, said she voted in favor of keeping this provision because it was specific to one group.

“If it had tried to involve more unions, most of us wouldn’t have voted for it,” Lukaszek said.

Her union represents many workers at the University of Washington, UW Medical Center, and Harborview Medical Center.

Ed Vazquez is a union member who has worked as a custodian at University of Washington for more than 20 years.

His salary equates to a little more than $16 an hour. He also qualifies for food stamps but chooses not to apply for them.

“You’re working just to pay rent, and put a little food on the table, and to pay some bills. You’re paycheck to paycheck, or just one paycheck (away from) being homeless,” Vazquez said.