Proposition 1A starts off as a very straightforward union demand from Service Employees International Union Local 925 and American Federation of Teachers Washington: All of Seattle’s child care teachers and staff will make $15 an hour starting Jan. 1, 2015. The measure grants a three-year phase-in for child care centers and preschools with fewer than 250 employees.
According to Prop. 1A spokesperson Heather Weiner, there are 4,500 licensed caregivers in Seattle. Most of them, she said, are women, new immigrants or people of color. They earn, on average, around $11 an hour to $13 an hour, Weiner said.
In March 2014, the unions started collecting signatures to put what became known as Prop. 1A on the ballot. In June, the city of Seattle passed its own $15-an-hour minimum wage law, with a seven-year phase-in for small businesses.
Weiner said Prop. 1A’s three-year phase-in is justified. “There is high turnover in King County; we don’t want to lose any more caregivers.”
She said the cost of the higher minimum wage would be borne by the owners of child care centers and preschools. There would be a nominal cost, she estimated, to city government to administer and enforce the higher wages.
In June the mayor’s office disagreed. Ben Noble, director of the mayor’s budget office, co-wrote a memo stating the cost to city government for the new higher wage for caregivers would be between $15 million and $23 million annually.
Seattle City Council President and Prop. 1A opponent Tim Burgess said, “It’s a fair analysis.”
John Burbank, executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute and Prop. 1A supporter, said, “The budget office is not immune from political influence.”
Another part of Prop. 1A would establish a “professional training institute” run by a labor union that early education workers would have to attend in order to earn mandatory certificates. At the training institute, Weiner explained, workers would learn how to promote emotional development, as well as detect child abuse and learning disabilities. “We want to increase the quality of care,” said Weiner.
Burgess said while early education workers do need more training, there are already plenty of local colleges and universities where they can receive that education. He said the unions insist on setting up and running their own shop. “There is no public policy rationale for doing that,” said Burgess.
The most controversial part of Prop. 1A is the so-called 10 percent rule. It states, “It shall be the policy of the City of Seattle that early childhood education should be affordable and that no family should have to pay more than ten percent of gross family income on early education and child care.”
Weiner said this is an aspirational goal. “Nothing requires [city government] to implement those goals as mandates.”
Prop. 1A does require the city council to convene a task force to study the cost of Seattle’s preschools and child care centers. Weiner said the city would pay an approximate one-time cost of $1.5 million for such a task force.
Burgess said, “The big hit is this requirement that no family should pay more than 10 percent of its income on child care.” Burgess pointed to the mayor’s budget office memo on the cost of the 10 percent rule, which is estimated to be more expensive than enacting a higher wage for pre-K staff: $30 million to $48 million.
When the mayor’s budget office added the cost of raising caregivers’ wages to $15 an hour, the 10 percent rule and the costs of worker training and administration for the program, it estimated that Prop. 1A could cost as much as $107 million annually.
Burgess noted that Prop. 1A contains no new taxes to pay for any costs associated with its implementation.
Weiner said no new taxes are needed because the total costs for the proposition are so low — around $3 million. She said Prop 1A is a simple, low-cost ballot measure. “There are 750 child care centers and preschools licensed in Seattle. Let’s improve them,” she said