Seattle City Council Approves Plan To Increase Min. Wage To $15/Hour

The Seattle City Council discusses the minimum wage hike on Monday (Photo: @evanbush)

The Seattle City Council discusses the minimum wage hike on Monday (Photo: @evanbush)

While federal lawmakers mull over the President’s call for a $10/hour minimum wage, the Seattle City Council has approved a phased-in wage increase that will eventually lift the city’s minimum hourly pay to $15 an hour, the highest rate in the entire country.

The proposed pay hike was given the green light last week by a Council committee on wages, and went before the full City Council for a vote on Monday afternoon.

Washington state already has a relatively high minimum wage at $9.32/hour, more than two dollars above the $7.25/hour federal minimum. The ordinance adopted by Seattle would require all businesses in the city to increase their pay levels up to $15/hour over the course of three-to-seven years.

How quickly a business must raise wages depends on its size. Some “Schedule 1” businesses — those with more than 500 employees in the U.S., or franchisees associated with a company that employs more than 500 people — must raise their lowest level of wages to $11/hour by April 1, 2015. The wages then increase to $13/hour in 2016 and $15/hour in 2017.

If those Schedule 1 businesses contribute to employees’ healthcare benefits, they have longer to raise their wages. In 2016, they would pay $12.50/hour. That increases to $13.50 in 2017, and finally to $15/hour in 2018.

Schedule 2 employers — those with 500 or fewer employees (Does not include franchisees who are part of a large network) — would have several more years to phase in the pay raise. Starting in 2016, the minimum hourly wage increases to $10.50 and increases in $.50 increments each year until 2020, when it reaches $13.50. The next year, 2021, it finally reaches the $15 amount.

The ordinance does allow for the city to eventually create exceptions for trainee and minor employees that would allow employers to pay these workers lower wages. A Council member proposed striking this portion of the law, but the Council voted to keep it.

It’s estimated that around 100,000 members — around 25% — of the Seattle workforce would be affected by the pay raise. Supporters of the bill say that raising the bar on minimum wage will allow them to make ends meet and avoid debt.

“If I was to get this $15… I’d be able to take care of my kids, my family,” an IHOP worker explained at Monday’s packed Council meeting, according to the Seattle Times’ Evan Bush.

Some supporters of the $15 minimum wage claim that the phase-in period as written into the ordinance is too long for workers to wait. They had hoped that there would be an increase starting in January of 2015, instead of the April 2015 start.

A proposal to bring that start date up to Jan. 1 was also voted down by the Council, reportedly resulting in a chorus of boos from activists in the audience.

“I have not met a single person who claims McDonald’s or Starbucks or any other big business needs a phase-in,” chided Council member Kshama Sawant who proposed the defeated amendment.

Later in the hearing, Council member Sally Clark spoke to the activists in the audience who accused the Council of making pro-business compromises to the ordinance.

“Nothing that smells of compromise is acceptable to you,” she explained. “Yet politics is the art of compromise.”

In spite of the heated debate over the amendments, the Council voted unanimously (9-0) to approve the bill.

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