The Seattle City Council voted unanimously on June 2 to raise the city’s minimum wage to hour. The minimum wage ordinance, which more than doubles the current federal minimum wage, was an important victory for labor activists and puts Seattle in the forefront of national efforts to address income inequality by raising the wage floor for the city’s lowest paid workers.
The “Fight for 15” was a major campaign platform for both Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Council member, Kshama Sawant. Sawant’s election received national attention because she ran her campaign as an openly socialist candidate.
The ordinance was passed with several concessions to businesses that have been criticized by labor activists. The wage increase will be phased in over seven years, with different schedules for small and big businesses (defined as more than 500 employees) and for
business that provide health care coverage or where workers receive tips.
In another concession to business, upon the approval of the state Department of Labor and Industries, employers will be allowed to pay a wage lower than the city minimum—but higher than the state minimum—for the employment of “learners, of apprentices, and of messengers employed primarily in delivery of letters and messages,” and “individuals whose earning capacity is impaired by age or physical or mental deficiency or
The ordinance also contains a provision for a sub-minimum wage-rate for teenagers. Employers will be allowed to pay 85% of the minimum wage to workers under the age of 18. Despite these compromises, Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance is a historic victory for activists. At their May membership meeting, ILWU Local 19 members
voted in favor of a resolution supporting the minimum wage increase.
Even though longshore workers will not be directly affected by the ordinance, Local 19 President Cameron Williams said that it is important to help the City’s lowest paid workers.
“The seventh guiding principle of the ILWU reminds us that unless workers organize, wages, like water, will flow to the lowest level,” Williams said. “Wages in the country have been a downward slide for decades for most workers. It’s time to turn the tide on that trend.”
Local 19 Executive Board member Justin Hirsh said the final ordinance was not perfect and he acknowledged the leadership of Councilmember Sawant. “Kshama and her team fought up to the last minute to make this ordinance the best it could be. This is a
precedent-setting victory and we move forward from here,” Hirsh said.