Around 100 people chanted the refrain while marching through Capitol Hill Saturday afternoon to celebrate the city’s new minimum wage law going into effect Wednesday.
City Council member Kshama Sawant joined labor leaders and activists to pass out informational flyers and balloons to workers inside the neighborhood’s chain businesses.
The march was a victory lap of sorts for $15 Now activists and a handful of workers who staged numerous rallies and marches around the neighborhood over the past year. Capitol Hill served as the backdrop to some of the most important events on the march to $15, from an early walkout at the Madison McDonald’s to Mayor Ed Murray enacting the minimum wage law. In between, there were symposiums, forums, studies, and countless speeches.
It will all come to a head Wednesday, when the minimum wage at Seattle employers with more than 500 employees will rise to $11 — an 18% jump. Employees at smaller companies with no tips and no medical benefits will also have a $11/hour floor. Small employers of tipped workers and employers that provide medical benefits may pay a $10 minimum and make up the balance with credit for the tips.
There are some exceptions to the large employer track. Public entities are not subject to the wage hike, including the University of Washington. One of Capitol Hill’s largest employers, Seattle Central College, is also exempt, but administrators at the Seattle College District have decided to increase wages on the same schedule as the city law.
“The district supports the city’s goal to offer workers a path toward earning a livable wage for their labor,” SCD spokesperson Maria Lamarca Anderson told CHS in an email. “Since that goal is clearly aligned with the district’s mission to equip its students with the education and training needed to be more competitive in our job market.”
After passing out flyers to workers inside the First Hill McDonald’s, which is slated to close to make way for a new mixed-use development, Sawant addressed the marchers in the restaurant’s parking lot.
“Only a year ago I was at City Hall fighting it out with big business and we were out here on the street,” she said.
Most Capitol Hill food and drink owners will only be required to raise employee wages by less than a dollar if they aren’t already making $11 an hour plus tips. But over time, the phased in wage hike could bring about fundamental changes to the tipping system.
Lost Lake and Comet owner Dave Meinert, and a member of the mayor’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee formed to pound out a middle ground in the debate, told CHS that a move towards service charges and increased prices could come to restaurants far before the full implementation of a $15 an hour minimum wage in 2021.
“I think we’ll see bigger restaurants move away from tipping right away and I think that will start a trend that will take hold really quickly,” he said. “I think in two years tipping may become an outdated business model.”
In the meantime, Meinert said the increase would not drastically effect bars and restaurants and had no concerns about the law he helped to forge as part of the mayor’s income inequality task force.
Some business owners, like Meinert, who publicly pushed back against an immediate increase to $15 we’re strongly rebuked by activists. After a year of debating the issue on Twitter and other forums, Liberty owner Andrew Friedman told CHS he was done commenting on the issue publicly.
State Sen. Pramila Jayapal, who is sponsoring a $12 an hour minimum wage law at the state level, handed out high fives and flyers inside the Broadway Starbucks during Saturday’s march. “We still have a lot of work to do across the state,” she said. Jayapal, who represents the 37th district, recently endorsed Sawant in her bid to represent District 3 (CHS coverage).
Not ever employer is waiting six years. Earlier in 2015, Central Co-op announced it would begin offering offer entry-level wages of $15 as part of its new contract with employees.
In addition to the Seattle wage hike, there are a few other employer mandates under the law:
- Written notice to employees of pay rate and tip policies at time of hire or change of employment.
- Requirement to pay wages and tips.
- Written notice of employees’ tips each pay day.
- Written notice to employees of their rights to wage and tip compensation.