More than a year after fast-food workers walked off their jobs to demand higher wages, Mayor Ed Murray delivered on Tuesday as he enacted an historic $15 an hour minimum wage for the city of Seattle. Speaking at Cal Anderson Park before he signed the bill, Murray said Seattle is leading the way in addressing the increasing gap between rich and poor in the U.S.
“We are doing it the Seattle way. We are doing it through collaboration … That’s how you get change done,” he said.
Murray’s signed the minimum wage bill passed by City Council on Monday that very closely resembled the mayor’s May Day compromise plan. The council added several amendments to the plan — including a delay to being the transition in April 2015 and adding a training wage — before unanimously passing it on to the mayor.
The brief signing ceremony marked a historical occasion for Seattle, which becomes the first city in the U.S. to enact a $15 an hour minimum wage law, although it will take several years to implement. It also marked a major victory for the the organizing group 15 Now, Socialist Alternative and its most prominent member, city council member Kshama Sawant, who ran on a $15 an hour platform last year.
Cal Anderson made for an interesting venue for the bill’s signing. The central urban open space in Murray’s home neighborhood, Cal Anderson is named for Murray’s early political mentor and the first openly gay legislator in Washington State. Several worker and minimum wage rallies started or marched from the park in recent years. Cal Anderson is also only blocks for some of the earliest roots of the $15 Now movement that were planted as Occupy Seattle took over a portion of the nearby Seattle Central campus in late 2011. Seattle Central was also a cradle for Sawant’s early political aspirations. Meanwhile, the offices of The Stranger, the Seattle’s leading voice for leftist news coverage in the city, had a sports field-long view of the signing ceremony. The restaurant and bar-rich Pike/Pine and Broadway entertainment districts, where tip credit and phase-ins were hotly debated, also surround the park.
“Cal Anderson Park was the location of the first public engagement meeting of the IIAC in February, focused on retail and restaurants,” a rep for the mayor’s office tells CHS. “Capitol Hill in many ways was one of the centers in Seattle’s minimum wage debate. The neighborhood business community have been truly engaged since the beginning.”
Following the bill signing Murray said it was unfortunate that a group representing franchise business owners threatened to sue the city for the minimum wage hike and rebuffed the idea that places like Subway could be compared to local, independent restaurants.
Murray’s action now paves the way for minimum wage workers to start making $11 an hour by April 2015, up from the current $9.32 an hour. The minimum wage will reach $15 an hour in 2017 for workers at companies with over 500 employees. Small businesses will have until 2019 or 2021 to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour, depending if their workers receive tips or health care benefits.
The signing followed the council’s approval of Council Bill 118098 and Resolution 31524 on Monday. Last week, the City Council’s minimum wage committee added a roster of amendments and additions to the plan including a sub-minimum training wage and delayed start date. The boisterous meeting drew jeers from the 15 Now masses as council members shot down council member Sawant’s efforts to remove those elements from the final ordinance. Following the council’s vote people gathered outside city hall for a celebratory dance party.
Unfourtunantely, Cal Anderson Park wasn’t in full glory for the mayoral signing as its prominent water mountain ran dry for scheduled cleaning.
Meanwhile, the less compromising wing of $15 an hour supporters continue to gather signatures to put a faster-acting wage increase on the ballot for November while others have promised lawsuits to stop the new wage plan from moving forward.