Forums on minimum wage discuss timeline of change

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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SEATTLE —

The hotly debated $15-an-hour minimum wage proposal played out on two stages Thursday. Both forums in Capitol Hill highlighted the question of how soon higher wages should take effect. 

The city of Seattle’s advisory committee on income inequality hosted the first meeting at Cal Anderson Park. In a room meant for 44 people, almost twice that number showed up to give their input. 

Both business owners and low-wage workers talked about the impact of a $15-an-hour wage on their budgets. 

Malcolm Cooper-Suggs, who works at McDonald’s, said he takes home at most $1,000 a month. After paying rent, groceries and transportation, he said he barely has any money left. 

“I think a lot of workers in Seattle are just tired of being down to their last dollar,” Cooper-Suggs said.

If he earned $15 an hour, Cooper-Suggs said he would be able to enroll in school. 

At the same time, many business owners asked committee members to do more research and to roll out such a change gradually. 

“I don’t want to speak for the group, but for me, somewhere along the lines of a three- to a five-year rollout,” said Angela Stowell, CFO and owner of Ethan Stowell Restaurants. 

Stowell said she supports a $15-an-hour minimum wage. But if the change happened immediately, she said they would be operating with a negative 2 percent profit margin.

Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who helped facilitate the forum, said the solution would have to involve some kind of compromise. 

But a few blocks away at Seattle Central Community College, Councilmember Kshama Sawant took a very different tune in front of a packed room of students. 

Sawant agreed with the need for thoughtful analysis. 

“But there is one fact that needs no studying, which is that Seattle has become unlivable and unaffordable for the vast majority of people,” Sawant said. 

She urged the students to sign up with the 15 Now campaign, which plans to seek a ballot initiative if the city’s committee does not move forward with a proposal quickly.

Sawant said compromise would not help people who are facing an affordability crisis right now.

“Working people, as a matter of fact, have been too flexible for four decades. That has been the problem,” Sawant said.

Two more forums on this topic will be held next week.