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article imageSeattle City Council approves $15 minimum wage

By Brett Wilkins     Jun 3, 2014 in Politics
Seattle - The Seattle City Council unanimously voted to approve a $15 hourly minimum wage, the highest in the nation and nearly equal to the highest in the world.
"Today we have taken action that will serve as a model for the rest of the nation to follow," declared progressive Mayor Ed Murray in the wake of Monday's historic vote.
"We did this. Workers did this," added Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative party who made the "Fight for 15" a central plank of her campaign.
The $15 hourly minimum wage represents a 61 percent increase over the current Washington state minimum wage of $9.32, already the nation's highest. Seattle suburb SeaTac, population 28,000, implemented a $15 minimum wage in January, but no other major US city guarantees workers anywhere near as much as Seattle. San Francisco, at $10.74 per hour, is the next-closest city.
Indeed, only Australia, where the minimum wage is currently over $16 per hour, offers low-wage workers a better deal.
Seattle's new pay floor will be phased in over the course of the next five years. Businesses with at least 500 employees will have three years to implement the raise. Smaller businesses will get up to seven years.
Once the city's minimum wage reaches $15, it will continue to rise in concert with the consumer price index, with some experts forecasting an $18 minimum wage by 2025.
Sawant was not completely satisfied with Seattle's measure. She wants an across-the-board immediate increase to $15, and introduced several amendments to do so. They all failed.
"Seattle is setting the stage for future movements," said Sawant. "Seattle will be the place with the highest minimum wage in the country. But how will we expect workers in other cities to fight big business if we don't set the right tone?"
"It is true that we will not win everything," she added. "But people's movements today are not being defeated by business. They are being defeated by the elected leadership of this city."
Seattle Councilwoman Kshama Sawant  a member of the Socialist Alternative party  made the  Fight For...
Seattle Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative party, made the "Fight For 15" the central plank of her campaign.
Shannon Kringen/Flickr Creative Commons
But Ken Jacobs, chairman of the University of California-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, told the Los Angeles Times that Seattle's move was historic.
"Having a first city to go to $15 is a big step," said Jacobs. "It breaks open that discussion elsewhere. I think we're likely to see other cities follow suit... We're seeing a breakthrough to minimum wages at a level that weren't considered possible just a couple of years ago."
Indeed, San Francisco is currently considering a $15 minimum wage, as is Los Angeles for hotel workers. There is a push for a $13 minimum wage in San Diego as well.
Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which means that if an individual works full-time, 40 hours per week, every week with no vacation, they would earn $15,080 annually. The federal government considers individual incomes below $11,670 to be poverty wages.
In practice, few minimum wage earners are permitted to work 40 hours per week, since employers would then be forced to provide costly benefits. Therefore many minimum wage workers, even those with multiple jobs, live in poverty, with taxpayers bearing the burden of supporting them through government assistance programs. Critics accuse large corporations such as Walmart and McDonald's of receiving massive corporate welfare in the form of billions of dollars in public assistance paid to their poverty-wage employees.
Companies like Walmart have also been at the forefront of the fight against minimum wage increases.
The International Franchise Association, an industry lobby group, said it will sue Seattle in an effort to stop what it calls an "unfair and discriminatory" plan and "a deliberate attempt to achieve a political agenda at the expense of small franchise business owners."
Numerous local small businesses expressed alarm over the looming $15 minimum wage.
"If the $15 minimum wage is enacted, we would go out of business immediately and all our 25 permanent staff would be out of a job," Niz Marar, owner of Wild West Trading Company, said in an open letter to Mayor Murray in opposition to the plan.
"No city or state has gone this far," warned Councilwoman Sally Clark before Monday's vote.
While many business owners worried about the implications of $15, many low-wage workers rejoiced at the news of the council vote.
"I'm really happy. This means a lot," McDonald's employee Brittany Phelps, who currently earns $9.50 per hour, told the Seattle Times.
Even business owners in what is arguably the most progressive city in the nation welcomed the change.
"A hundred thousand people next year will have more money in their pockets," Molly Moon Neitzel, owner of Molly Moon's Ice Cream, told the Seattle Times. Neitzel, who already pays the non-tipped workers at her six Seattle stores $15 an hour, said that her costs will rise by $100,000 because of the raise, but added that higher-paid workers will "have more money to buy ice cream."
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