SEATTLE — Mayor Ed Murray announced plans for a $15 an hour minimum wage Thursday, calling the proposal that would take three to seven years to fully implement “historic.”
Murray, alongside Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata and other business and community leaders, presented a plan for $15-an-hour minimum that was approved by 21 out of 25 members of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee tasked with studying a way to raise wages.
The City Council needs to approve the proposal before it is adopted. They will begin reviewing the proposal on May 5.
If approved, the wage would be the highest of any major city in the nation. More than 100,000 people working in Seattle currently make less than $15 an hour.
However, at least one member of the City Council quickly expressed opposition.
Socialist City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, who has been pushing for a $15 minimum wage, said, “This proposal does not live up to the wishes of Seattle’s workers. It’s time to ask Starbucks, why aren’t you compromising on the massive profits you make? The first is far from over. We’re still building a movement on the street.”
The mayor’s agreement calls for a phased-in approach to increasing minimum wage.
Small businesses, defined as businesses with less than 500 employees, have 7 years to reach the new minimum wage. For the first five years, those businesses will be allowed to factor tips, healthcare and other benefits into that wage, but not after that.
Fewer than one percent of city businesses employee more than 500 people.
Businesses with more than 500 employees such as McDonalds and other chains will only have three years to implement the new wage, Murray said. There are more than 30,000 employees in the city that worker for a company with 500 or more people.
There are no exemptions for any business at the end of seven years to pay less than $15 an hour. Once $15 an hour is reached, future increases will be tied to the consumer price index.
Murray and others praised the ultimate compromise of the wage commission, saying the proposal was by no means perfect for anyone, but worked for all.
“I have never seen a situation where everyone is happy,” Murray said. “I’m a politician, not a saint.”
Many area labor groups supported the mayor’s plan. A group of supporters of a gradual increase in minimum wage, 15 for Seattle, called the proposal a “victory.” Other groups, such as “15 Now” largely figure-headed by Socialist Council member Kshama Sawant, have not yet released a statement. Murray said he was unsure if other groups would still try to file an initiative to bring forward a ballot measure requiring an increase in minimum wage sooner than the mayor’s plan.
Licata quoted famed community organizer Saul Alinsky in his praise for the plan.
“Compromise is key,” Licata said. “Compromise defines a free and opening society… we’ve accomplished this.”
Licata said he anticipates a plan to pass the city council with little changes, leaving the proposal largely in tact.
Here is the proposed minimum wage increases in a graph: