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Seattle City Council passes $15 minimum wage ordinance

Activists rally for higher wages
Activists rally for higher wages
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Today, June 2, 2014, the Seattle City Council passed a minimum wage ordinance for the city to slowly raise the minimum wage in Seattle to $15 per hour. The process would happen over a several years long phase-in, with a longer phase-in for small businesses. Under the ordinance, a small business is considered those with 500 or less employees. Companies with more than 500 employees will have three years, while "small" businesses would have up to seven. There are considerations for employers that provide health care, tip credits, and a minor's wage.

This has happened largely due to the force of protests and rallies that have happened in the city in the past few months demanding a higher minimum wage. Some were surprised at the election of socialist Kshama Sawant to the City Council last fall, but she has used her platform on City Council to push this hot-button labor issue. Seattle's new mayor Ed Murray has also played a large role in the talk of $15 per hour, forming an advisory committee after he was elected that spent months consulting with businesses, labor interest, activists and others about how to best implement a plan. This is the plan they came up with, but they also added amendments to delay implementation from January to April 2015.

Kshama Sawant and those from her organization, $15Now, say that the phase-ins, tip credits and other considerations are too lenient, especially on big businesses that CAN pay $15 now. They have also argued that the 500 employee limit for "small business" was too high and the phase-in too long. With Washington state's minimum wage at $9.32, the highest in the nation already, a long phase-in period would seem not very effective. The $15Now contingent in Seattle has already begun collecting signatures on a ballot initiative to change the classification of small business to 250 or less, and make big businesses pay $15 starting as soon as January 2015, with a three year phase-in for small businesses. They must collect 30,000 signatures by mid-July to have this go to the ballot in November.

It would seem like the ordinance would be a good compromise, given the left's extreme concessions on the issue, but the more conservative side in Seattle is predicting price hikes, a "mass exodus" of business in Seattle, and telling low wage workers to prepare to be replaced by machines. This is the same talking point conservatives espoused when Seattle passed mandatory paid sick leave, and Seattle's economy has been growing since then. Given the long phase-in of the wage, it is doubtful it will disrupt the business economy as much as they're predicting.

Moreover, if prices at huge corporations do make a jump, maybe it's time we started having a conversation about how corporate profits are at an all-time high, while wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low. Or how the buying power of the current minimum wage is at a historic low? Big businesses in Seattle and elsewhere can afford to pay much higher wages, without raising prices.