In January, Mayor Ed Murray announced one of the signature goals of his new administration: Paying all city employees at least $15 an hour. At the time, he said he hoped that the wage hike could happen by the spring of 2014.
Now, in his 2015-16 proposed city budget, Murray has put off that goal, instead only providing enough money to pay a minimum wage of $11 in 2015 and $13 in 2016. Starting in 2017, the city government, like other Seattle employers with more than 500 workers, would be required by its own law to pay a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
“It’s politics from the city,” said Ian Gordon, business manager of Laborers’ Local 1239, which represents close to 100 of the city’s lowest-wage workers.
In the meantime, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant has proposed funding a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all city workers starting on Jan. 1. Her proposal has the support of at least two other councilmembers, Jean Godden and Mike O’Brien. It would cost around $1,000,000 in 2015 and just over $750,000 in 2016 (the mayor’s proposed annual general-fund budget is $1 billion).
City council staff did not know exactly how many workers would be affected by the proposed raise. Gordon said he has heard it would boost salaries for close to 800 of the city’s 10,000 employees.
Murray began his crusade to raise wages before he took office. In December 2013, Mayor-elect Murray announced his Income Inequality Advisory Committee with the goal of raising the minimum wage for all Seattle workers, private and public employees alike.
Shortly after his inauguration in January 2014, Murray issued the first executive order of his new administration; it directed all city departments to prioritize “the development of a minimum $15-per-hour minimum wage for city employees... .” In a press conference, Murray said, “I believe Seattle, the city itself, should be a model for the rest of the employers in this city.” He added, “I want to move quickly to ensure that we can reach a $15 minimum wage.”
When asked by a reporter how long it would take to pay all city workers that wage, Murray replied, “I believe we can move faster than four months in regards to city employees but we haven’t had a chance to sit down with the city council.” He cautioned that he had only been in office for three days, so all estimates were very preliminary. He put the cost at around $750,000, and he said it would affect around 600 employees.
In early June, Murray signed “historic legislation to raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15,” according to the mayor’s website. “We have taken a great step forward in the challenge of addressing income inequality and rebuilding the middle class,” Murray said at a press conference on that day. The new law had different phase-in schedules for different types of employers. It mandated that all employers with more than 500 employees would phase in the new minimum wage according to the following schedule: $11 by April 1, 2015; $13 by Jan. 1, 2016; and $15 by Jan. 1, 2017.
Earlier this month, Jason Kelly, the mayor’s press secretary, wrote in an email, “The mayor is a supporter of getting every worker in Seattle to $15. That’s why he led the effort to bring business and labor together and built the consensus agreement that achieves higher wages for workers.” He continued, “In his budget proposal, the mayor used the same schedule for rising wages that the council adopted earlier this year.”
The next day, Councilmember Sawant, in a Budget Committee meeting, criticized the phase-in of the $15-an-hour minimum wage. “What was the rationale for giving the phase-in to big business? I opposed that strenuously,” she said. “The gold standard is getting to $15 an hour as fast as possible. What is the argument that the city can make to continue to pay poverty wages?”
City councilmembers will continue negotiations to decide if additional funding will be added into the city budget. The city council’s final budget vote is scheduled for Nov. 24.
Union leader Gordon said he hopes the city council will add funding. “The people I represent mostly make $12.97 an hour,” he said. The majority work as recreation attendants for Seattle Parks and Recreation, answering phones, checking out equipment and helping direct sports and other games.
Other workers who Gordon represents who earn less than $15 an hour include some golf-course groundskeepers and parks-maintenance aides. He said other low-wage city workers that he does not represent include dining-room attendants at Seattle Center and cashiers.
“This is really a hardship,” said Gordon. “They can’t live in this city.”
For the chronology of a raise, click here