Hundreds of marchers traveled from Judkins Park to Pine and Broadway on Saturday afternoon to rally for raising the minimum wage in Seattle. What they heard from City Council member Kshama Sawant when they arrived on Capitol Hill was new.
In a speech that hit many of her familiar themes about squaring off against big corporations, Sawant also laid out a new, softer push to $15 for Seattle’s thousands of small, independent businesses. “We are proposing $11 an hour,” she said, adding that small businesses would be phased-in to $15 over a three-year period.
“[The] Mayor said he is concerned about very small businesses,” Sawant said. “Let’s take that off the table here today. Let’s support both small businesses and human services by phasing them in over three years starting with $11 an hour on January 1st, with an inflation increase, with regular steps to earn 15 each year.” Sawant. “This is our proposal.”
“We get to see if the concerns about small business and non-profits are genuine,” Sawant said.
At the March 5th public hearing on income inequality, CHS reported on the handful of small business owners who spoke about the $15 minimum wage amidst a sea of 15 Now supporters. Meanwhile, we reported details this week of a survey of 251 Seattle small business owners that showed the strongest support for a three-year phase-in and using a “total compensation” calculation that could include everything from tips to health care.
Mayor Ed Murray, meanwhile, released a statement on the day of the march to say his committee convened to produce recommendations for raising the minimum wage in the city is making progress toward its April deadline:
Our broad stakeholder process is on track and making good progress. There was always the potential for individuals to chart their own course as is their right, but I remain committed to a solution that is inclusive, thoughtful, lasting, and that minimizes unintended consequences to the greatest degree possible. I believe we are on target to deliver a proposal that raises the minimum wage while accomplishing these objectives.
At the rally on Saturday, Sawant acknowledged the growing pressure on 15 Now organizers to produce a friendlier plan for small-businesses and non-profits.
“In recent weeks, business has begun to push back. They say 15 will cost jobs. Teenagers won’t be able to find work. That small businesses will have to close their doors. Such arguments are to be expected,” Sawant said.
Despite the friendlier path for small business, larger companies are still being targeted for the $15 hourly wage from the outset — no compromises.
“Big business, all industries, with no exceptions will pay $15 an hour on January 1st, 2015 to all workers,” Sawant said. “No tip penalty, no wage theft, no so called total compensation, no training wages, no teenage wages. The $15 minimum wage will be tied to the cost of living and is the Washington State minimum wage and will be automatically increased to keep up with inflation.”
The City of Seattle is holding an income inequality symposium on March 27th on the Seattle U campus to help finalize the recommendation process. The committee has an end-of-April deadline for providing recommendations to Murray on raising the wage. Meanwhile, backers continue to prepare legislation that Sawant has promised to present to Council in “early 2014.” 15 Now and other groups are also preparing for possible ballot initiatives to turn the decision over to voters should City Hall’s progress stall.