Seattle to get $15 minimum wage -- nation's highest

by: Monique Ming Laven Updated:

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Quick Facts:

  • City Council unanimously votes for $15 minimum wage Monday afternoon.
  • Phase-in period starts in April 1, 2015. Trainees will get lower wage.
  • The minimum wage would be highest in the nation.
  • Socialist City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant wanted higher wage in January.

Before the ink is even dry on the new, historic minimum wage law for Seattle, new resistance is coming from many sides.  Some threaten a lawsuit, some may take their ideas to the ballot, and others want to oust the firebrand who made the $15-dollar minimum wage her campaign platform.

Seattle will soon have the nation’s highest minimum wage after a historic 9-0 vote Monday by the City Council, outlining a phased-in $15 minimum wage.

Some critics say the mayor's plan is not enough. Others say it will lead to layoffs and higher prices for consumers.

Immediately after the vote, the International Franchise Association President and CEO said a lawsuit would be filed against the “unfair and discriminatory Seattle minimum wage plan.”

“The Seattle City Council and Mayor Murray’s plan would force the 600 franchisees in Seattle, which own 1,700 franchise locations employing 19,000 workers, to adopt the full $15 minimum wage in 3 years, while most other small business owners would have seven years to adopt the $15 wage,” CEO and president Steve Caldeira said in a statement. “These hundreds of franchise small business owners are being punished simply because they chose to operate as franchisees.

“Decades of legal precedent have held that franchise businesses are independently owned businesses and are not operated by the brand’s corporate headquarters.”

Activists with 15 Now rallied in front of City Hall at 1 p.m. before the full City Council’s 2 p.m. vote.

In that minimum wage plan, which was passed unanimously last week by a city council committee, big businesses must phase-in the new wage in three to four years.

Small businesses have four to seven years.

But activists were not happy with the following components of the plan:

● During the transition period, some businesses will be allowed to credit tips and health care as part of the higher minimum wage.

● Trainees will get a lower minimum wage and the phase-in period would be delayed until April 1, 2015.

Independent restaurant owners say tips should always be considered part of worker wages.  Angela Stowell of Ethan Stowell Restaurants says tips are included in what is reported on her employee’s income tax reports, and so they should be included in the minimum wage requirements.  “We can show that our front of the house employees are making 35-50 dollars an hour sometimes,” she explained.

Stowell says during the seven year transition period, she and other restaurateurs will continue to press the city to reconsider their tip policy, “Some continued work is going to have to happen in order for the Seattle restaurant scene to stay lively and vibrant.”

She also says she believes many small business owners will get behind a candidate to oust Socialist councilmember Kshama Sawant next year.  Stowell says she is a progressive business owner and resents having been grouped with “corporate interests” during the minimum wage debate.  “I will be happy to support a candidate running against her [Sawant] in 2015.”  

Sawant tells KIRO 7 she has no fear of political retribution, “When businesses campaign openly against me, they will be showing where they stand.  They will be showing they are against lifting workers out of poverty.”

Sawant actually wanted a more extreme wage law.  She introduced four amendments at Monday's council meeting -- one to restore the January start date.

Sage Wilson with Working Washington said while not perfect, the proposal will do.

"We think though if you take a centimeter step back, what you see is this is an agreement which is going to lift up wages for 100,000 workers in the city of Seattle and that's something we want to see pass quickly," he said before the vote.

A big question is whether 15Now will continue its signature gathering campaign to bring forward a charter amendment to Seattle voters -- possibly in November -- to bring in a straight $15 an hour minimum wage.

The group said it has gathered 10,000 signatures and is keeping its options open.  And Councilmember Sawant told KIRO 7 she will support whatever the groups decides to do.  But on Monday, she was happy to celebrate what she called “a historic victory for workers in Seattle and workers everywhere.”

There was a victory party with dancing and food in City Hall Plaza.

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