With a unanimous 7-0 vote today, the Seattle City Council passed out of committee a modified ordinance raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 for employees at some large businesses by 2017, with all other workers being phased in to an inflation adjusted equivalent by 2025. Despite a series of amendments weakening the proposal, and her strident advocacy for $15 Now, Socialist council member Kshama Sawant voted “yes.” So much for her being unable to compromise.
The council will officially vote on the ordinance at its Monday meeting, but that is just a formality. A $15 minimum wage has passed in Seattle.
An amendment giving city regulators authority to approve a teen sub-minimum wage mirroring that of the state (currently 85% of minimum for workers under age 16) was approved 4-3, with Sawant, Mike O’Brien, and Sally Bagshaw voting no. An amendment moving the start date from January 1, 2015 to April 1, 2015 also passed 4-3, with Sawant, O’Brien, and Harrell voting no. (Council members Nick Licata and Tom Rasmussen were both absent and on vacation.)
That said, several Sawant and O’Brien amendments strengthening enforcement did pass the council, as did a Sally Clark amendment that removed adjustment formulas for wage schedules post-2018 and replaced them with a hard schedule based on a presumed 2.4 percent inflation rate. Since inflation will likely average less than 2.4 percent over the next decade, this latter amendment will likely prove a minor net plus for workers.
This ordinance is far from perfect. But it is historic, as is the fact that it will pass the council by a unanimous vote. Furthermore, it is now possible that the ordinance might not see any serious challenge at ballot box. With Sawant on board, $15 Now will likely drop its initiative and pivot to defending the ordinance while pushing the movement nationwide. Meanwhile, the business-backed One Seattle has reportedly decided not to file an opposing initiative of its own.
So I guess a $15 minimum wage is “thinkable” after all.
National (and international) headlines will likely tout this as “the highest minimum wage in the world.” Well, maybe. I wouldn’t be surprised if our wage is surpassed by the time the first workers hit $15 in 2017, let alone by the time the wage is fully phased in in 2025. But Seattleites should kvell with pride at our leadership on this issue, and the role we’re playing in improving the lives of the working poor nationwide.