Seattle City Council panel OKs $15 an hour minimum wage

(AP) – An ordinance that gradually increases the minimum wage in Seattle to $15 an hour was approved Thursday by a City Council committee, setting up a full council vote next week.

In a boisterous meeting, City Council members approved a delay to the implementation of the ordinance, from Jan. 1, 2015 to April 1, 2015. They voted down amendments that would have sped up phase-ins as well as discounting tips from total compensation. The council also approved a sub-minimum wage for teenagers, a provision opposed by labor representatives.

The whole ordinance, even with the contentious amendments, was approved unanimously by the City Council members present.

“Seattle, and other cities, are taking direct action to close our nation’s huge income gap because the federal and state governments have failed to do so. Seattle’s new law opens the way for many workers to earn enough to meet their basic needs. It will raise their standard of living and by putting more dollars into our economy, stimulate greater business opportunities. By significantly raising the minimum wage, Seattle’s prosperity will be shared by more people and create a sustainable model for continued growth,” City Councilman Nick Licata said.

The ordinance came from recommendations made by an advisory group of labor, business and nonprofit representatives convened by Mayor Ed Murray. After more than four months of discussion, the group presented its plan earlier this month. Members of the advisory committee urged the City Council to pass the plan as it was presented without changes.

Murray’s plan proposes a phase-in of the wage increase over several years, with a slower process for small businesses. The plan gives businesses with more than 500 employees nationally at least three years to phase in the increase. Those providing health insurance will have four years to complete the move. Smaller organizations will be given seven years, including a consideration for tips and health-care costs during the first five years of the phase-in process.

The full City Council will vote on the ordinance on Monday, but that may not be the end of the minimum-wage debate in Seattle.

A group called 15 Now is collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would amend the city’s charter. Its proposal would create an immediate wage hike for large businesses and a three-year phase-in for organizations with fewer than 250 full-time employees. At the meeting on Thursday, group members said they already had 10,000 signatures. They need more than 30,000 to make it on the ballot.

The Seattle Times reports that the bone of contention was on the timing of the wage hike implementation and other amendments:

The vote came after a morning discussion about amendments, including one that  passed, that would delay implementation of a new city minimum-wage law from Jan. 1 to April 1.

The seven council members, acting as the committee on minimum wage, were 4-3 split on that vote. Councilmember Sally Clark had proposed the amendment for the delay, saying it would give businesses more time to plan for the increase.

The committee also approved an amendment authorizing the city to set a lower minimum wage for minors and for apprentice and training programs. Mayor Ed Murray proposed the provision saying it paralleled state law. But unions and worker advocates objected saying it could be abused by employers.

The Council voted down a proposal by Councilmember Kshama Sawant that would have sped up the timeline for business to reach the minimum wage. Sawant’s allies in the Socialist Alternative Party attempted to present 10,000 signatures backing a charter amendment that would require big business to pay $15 an hour January 1 and give small businesses three years.

When Councilmember Sally Clark, chair of the minimum wage commitee, directed the group to submit the petitions to the City Clerk’s office, 15 Now activists broke into a chant of “What do we want? 15! When do we want it? Now!”

Sawant was also unsuccessful in removing the temporary tip credit from the proposal. She argued that a majority of tipped workers were women and that allowing a credit would add to the city’s gender wage gap.

Despite the defeats on amendments, the standing room only audience made up of union supporters, fast food workers and 15 Now activists broke into cheers when the Council unanimously approved the legislation.

Tacoma residents have been pressing for a $15 an hour minimum wage as well.

Photo: Seattle residents attend the committee meeting, May 29. AP