Seattle makes history: Council OKs $15 minimum wage

SEATTLE – The Seattle City Council approved a $15 minimum wage June 2, making it the place where the minimum wage will be the highest in the nation.

Only minutes after the vote, however, there were reports that national franchises were planning to sue over what they say is mistreatment of large businesses.

The increase will be implemented in stages, taking full effect in seven years.

An organization called 15 Now has been collecting signatures for an amendment to the city charter that would phase the increase in more quickly – in three instead of seven years. After the council vote yesterday spokespersons for the group said no final decision has been made on whether to go ahead with the ballot measure.

Newly-elected socialist council member Kshama Sawant reportedly said after the vote: “We did this, the workers did this.”

Seattle’s mayor Ed Murray told the press that the vote was a “bold step” in the direction of ending “30 years of systematic dismantling of the middle class.”

Fast food workers at the council meeting reportedly cried after the vote.

The Seattle Times quoted Brittany Phelps, who makes $9.50 an hour at a Seattle McDonald’s and who had brought her 5-year-old daughter to witness the historic vote: “I am really happy, this means a lot,” she said, brushing tears from her eyes.

Workers at the council meeting reportedly shouted “Shame!” when the council voted down several amendments introduced by Sawant.

Sawant tried to eliminate the provision that creates a training wage for teens and a provision that allows tips and health benefits to be counted as part of the wage for up to 11 years.

After they voted down her amendments Sawant reportedly denounced her colleagues as corporate representatives posing as the progressive alternative to Republicans.

The state AFL-CIO hailed the victory.

“The passage of the phased-in $15 minimum wage in Seattle was a first strike against income inequality,” said Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “Finally workers get a small share of the prosperity that they create. This is a very proud moment for the labor movement.” He added: “I want to extend our thanks to all the unions and community partners that worked so hard on this organizing effort as well as Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council, but in particular, I want to thank David Freiboth, executive secretary-treasurer of the Martin Luther King Central Labor Council, UFCW 21, SEIU 775 and SEIU 1199NW for their leadership. Hopefully this will raise the level of debate around the country.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement:

“Today’s vote in Seattle will go down in history as a milestone in the struggle to raise wages and ensure fair pay for all workers. It is proof that when working people organize and make their voices heard, we all benefit.

“While Republicans in Congress fail to act, Seattle, along with other cities and states around the country, is ensuring that workers receive a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work. We have already seen progress in states from Hawaii to Minnesota, and we will continue to fight to provide every worker with a good living wage and an opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

In just a year since fast-food workers in Seattle walked out on strike and sparked a movement for a $15 minimum wage, they have advanced their principle goal into law.

“Fast food workers have been paving the way for a better future for low wage workers across the city,” said Crystal Thompson, a Domino’s worker who has been a leader with Working Washington in the fast food movement. “Now many workers will have the chance to raise themselves out of poverty because of the $15 minimum wage.”

“When I see $15,” Thompson added, “I’ll be able to afford my own place in a safe neighborhood where my kids can ride their bikes, and I’ll finally be able to go back to school.”

Photo: Working Washington Facebook page.