This fall, Tacoma voters will have the chance to increase their minimum wage from the current rate of $9.47 per hour up to $15 per hour. Although Tacoma seems to be in favor of raising the wage, no one knows if or when it would go into effect.
On July 14, Mayor Marilyn Strickland and the Tacoma City Council discussed Proposition 1B for a $12 per hour minimum wage phase-in by 2018. Although raising the wage by $2.50 over 25 months is not revolutionary, any increase could be helpful in a city where up to 60 percent of students qualify for a free school lunch.
While the council met inside city hall, a group of citizens organized by 15 Now Tacoma demonstrated outside. The grassroots organization has already succeeded in getting Proposition 1 on the ballot. It calls for an immediate increase to $15 per hour in Tacoma for all businesses not defined as a “small business” by the City of Tacoma Tax Code.
According to 15 Now, the mayor’s middle ground is not a compromise but an insult, “measly and grudging scraps from [the mayor’s] table.” Patty Rose, secretary-treasurer of the Pierce County Central Labor Council, also called $12 a “poverty wage” next to the standard cost of living in Tacoma.
“That’s what it takes to live without being a burden on the taxpayer, without being on welfare,” said Mark Perry of 15 Now Tacoma. For a family with two working adults and two children to meet the level of average income in west Pierce County, he said both adults must make at least $14.82 per hour. “That doesn’t include restaurants or entertainment, just putting food on the table and a roof overhead.”
Having two similar initiatives on the ballot complicates the issue. As per Washington state law, voters will first be asked whether they are for or against raising the minimum wage, followed by a choice between the two proposals. If the voters are for an increased minimum wage, then the more popular response to the second question will pass. The ballot may be confusing to voters unless a well-funded education campaign takes place, which is unlikely because of the lack of labor support for either proposition.
Some claim that Strickland and the city council are deliberately sabotaging both measures in order to serve corporate interests. Strickland responded to similar allegations saying that “sometimes people give us too much credit.”
All proceedings would have been less likely prior to Seattle’s $15 per hour vote last year, which Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant said “can be done in any city” (“15 Next,” RC, June 11, 2014, Vol. 21, No. 24). Because fiscal conservatives largely control the federal House of Representatives, minimum-wage hikes have often had to come from cities themselves. However, proponents of the $15 minimum wage have grown in number recently, including U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
“The price of living for young people and single adults [in Tacoma] is around $11.06 per hour,” said Perry. “At $15, you should be able to go to school as well. And that’s what we need — $12 is too little.”