In Seattle and across the nation, raising the minimum wage has become the defining political issue of 2014. Sen. Patty Murray was on our Capitol Hill Tuesday to reiterate her support for a Senate bill to increase the federal minimum wage, while Mayor Ed Murray laid out his vision for a higher minimum wage in Seattle during his inaugural State of the City address across town at City Hall.
Sen. Murray joined Rep. Suzan DelBene, small business owners, and workers at Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream Shop on Tuesday to voice support for a Senate bill that would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, a proposal also backed by President Barack Obama.
“It’s not enough to make you rich, but its a small raise for million of families who desperately need it today,” Murray said. “Right now there are millions of Americans, people getting up at the crack of dawn for work every single day, and they are stuck living in poverty and they cant save up for a car, much less a house. They can’t pay to go back to school to get themselves out of poverty.”
One of those people is Martina Phelps, a 22-year-old Seattle Central Community College graduate and full-time employee at the First Hill McDonald’s, one of the restaurants to be targeted for a fast-food boycott this Thursday. Phelps spoke alongside Murray at the event.
“Because I make low wages I can’t go back to school and I can’t afford a car, which results in a four hour trip back and forth on the bus for work,” said Phelps, who lives in Skyway.
Molly Moon Neitzel, who opened her namesake ice cream shop in 2008, said her 50-80 workers already make a net $15 an hour wage, but that raising the federal minimum wage would be a boon for her business.
“When people in my community have a few more dollars in their pocket per hour, per day, per week, they’re going to think maybe they can take their kids for an ice cream cone after dinner,” she said.
In 2010 Sen. Murray was at Capitol Hill’s Cupcake Royal alongside Moon to announce the launch of The Main Street Alliance of Washington, which as been active in organizing small business owners around the minimum wage issue.
Sen. Murray said Seattle’s push for a $15 an hour minimum wage would not interfere with her efforts at the national level.
Mayor Murray touched on that proposal during his inaugural State of the City address that got going not long after the ice cream shop stumping was winding down.
“We can increase the income and purchasing power of low-wage workers while protecting small businesses, retaining jobs, and fostering economic development throughout the region,” Murray said, speaking before the City Council and a full council chamber.
During the speech Murray also vowed to launch a bike share program this year and push through funding for a Center City/First Avenue streetcar line that would connect to the First Hill Streetcar on Capitol Hill. Offering affordable pre-school for all is also the mayor’s agenda for this year, as is a conducting an sweeping assessment of the city’s assets and how they impact climate change .
Murray called the rising cost of housing as a percentage of income a “crisis” in Seattle, and said affordable housing is among the root causes. “I plan to work with Council to duplicate the approach we have taken with the living wage issue and apply it to the issue of affordable housing,” he said.
Murray’s polished remarks were drastically different from predecessor Mike McGinn’s first speech, which was unscripted and appeared off-the-cuff.
Following the speech, Council member Tim Burgess presented the mayor with a picture showing a young Murray during his days as a Seattle City Council staff member. Burgess thanked the mayor for promising to “follow the leadership” of the City Council.
Video of the speech is here, or you can read it below.
The Molly Moon’s event and Murray’s State of the City comes amid a flurry of wage focused events around the city. On President’s Day, the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce gathered members in a closed-door meeting to discuss the best path to raising the minimum wage and how to best protect small, local businesses in the process.
CHCC executive director Michael Wells said small business owners were supportive overall of raising the minimum wage, but rightfully anxious about sustaining their businesses.
“We’re not here to create scare tactics, but we want people to understand the realities of running a small business,” Wells said.
CHS attended the meeting as a member and agreed to treat all conversation as confidential. However, we plan to cover many of the issues and ideas raised at the meeting in coming weeks. Recent polling showed that 71% of Capitol Hill-area voters support a $15/hour minimum.
The mayor is expected to announce a minimum wage plan sometime in April. City Council member Kshama Sawant, who spearheaded the $15 an hour movement, has said she would support a ballot measure should the mayor not come through with a comprehensive plan.
In the meantime, the city’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee web site lists a roster of planned public discussions planned for the spring including an online “town hall” and a symposium to be held at Seattle University:
- March 5, 2014: Joint Income Inequality Advisory Committee – Seattle City Council Select Committee on Minimum Wage Public Hearing, location TBD
- March 1-22, 2014: Online Minimum Wage Town Hall
- March 27, 2014: Income Inequality Symposium, Campion Ballroom at Seattle University