Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (D) wants to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, KIRO 7 reports. In December, he created a task force that includes business and labor leaders to come up with a plan to raise the wage to that level within four months. That would allow him to send a proposal to the city council by the end of July.
KIRO reports that Murray is looking to avoid sending the issue to the voters, but that could very well happen anyway. Newly elected council member Kshama Sawant of the Socialist party pledged to raise the wage in her campaign, and she says she’s going to start gathering the signatures necessary to put a $15 wage on the ballot if lawmakers don’t quickly pass it on their own. “My commitment is unwavering and unshakable on getting $15 an hour and making progress on making Seattle an affordable city,” Sawant said.
Voters in a nearby town already got the chance to weigh in on the same wage level and narrowly approved it, granting workers in the small town of SeaTac a $15 minimum wage and paid sick days. But a court decision recently undid parts of the measure, which was meant to apply to all of the town’s workers both within the airport that gives it its name and outside, by saying that it could only apply to those who aren’t employed in the airport itself. The court’s decision leaves about 4,700 airport workers without the raise. In response, the group that had pushed for the higher wage, Yes! For SeaTac, said, “While we appreciate the judge’s affirmation of parts of SeaTac Proposition 1, the voters approved the entire ordinance, not just parts of it.” The group says it will file an expedited appeal of the decision with the state Supreme Court “as soon as possible.”
Despite the court’s ruling, bringing a minimum wage increase to voters is often a winning strategy for those who want to raise wages. Voters nearly always approve increases by substantial majorities. Ballot measures to raise local minimum wages may also be on their way in Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Washington, D.C.
Washington’s state minimum wage was already the highest in the country back in August, and it rose to $9.32 on January 1, boosting pay for 152,000 workers. They were part of the 1.4 million workers who got a higher raise in the new year through either legislated increases or automatic ones that come with the rising cost of living. Twenty-one states have minimum wages higher than the federal floor of $7.25 an hour, which has stayed stagnant for over four years. Last year, lawmakers approved raises in California and Washington, D.C. and voters enacted one in New Jersey. Proposals to raise wages have also been introduced in Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire. The $15 minimum wage pushes in Seattle and SeaTac mirror one of the core demands of fast food workers, who have been staging strikes in a growing number of cities to demand better pay and the right to form a union.
And at the federal level, Democratic lawmakers and President Obama have pushed for raising the wage to $10.10 an hour. Yet despite many Republican lawmakers’ support for minimum wage increases under President George W. Bush, they unanimously voted one down in March.