Seattle mayor unveils $15/hour minimum wage proposal

Mayor Ed Murray announces plans for a $15 an hour minimum wage.

SEATTLE -- Mayor Ed Murray on Thursday announced plans for a $15 an hour minimum wage, calling the proposal that would take three to seven years to fully implement "historic."

Murray, alongside Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata and other business and community leaders, presented a plan for $15-an-hour minimum that was approved by 21 of 25 members of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee the mayor tasked with studying a way to raise wages.

The City Council needs to approve the proposal before it is adopted. They will begin reviewing the proposal on May 5.

If approved, the wage would be the highest of any major city in the nation. More than 100,000 people working in Seattle currently make less than $15 an hour.

The mayor's agreement calls for a phased-in approach to increasing minimum wage.

Small businesses, defined as businesses with less than 500 employees, have 7 years to reach the new minimum wage. For the first five years, those businesses will be allowed to factor tips, healthcare and other benefits into that wage, but not after that.

Fewer than one percent of city businesses employee more than 500 people.

Businesses with more than 500 employees such as McDonalds and other chains will only have three years to implement the new wage, Murray said. There are more than 30,000 employees in the city that worker for a company with 500 or more people.

There are no exemptions for any business at the end of seven years to pay less than $15 an hour. Once $15 an hour is reached, future increases will be tied to the consumer price index.

Murray and others praised the ultimate compromise of the wage commission, saying the proposal was by no means perfect for anyone, but worked for all.

But Socialist City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, who spearheaded the ‘15 Now’ campaign, is disappointed at what she calls a watered-down deal.

"This proposal does not live up to the wishes of Seattle's workers," Sawant said after the agreement of the mayor's task force was announced.

“It’s time to ask Starbucks why aren’t you compromising on the massive profits you make? Why aren’t you willing to give $15 an hour to your workers? Why do need three years, why do you need four years?” asked Sawant.

People on the street who were asked about the proposal were divided; some feeling the increase will improve our local economy, while others worry it could hurt the economy.

“Having it done this way by phasing it in may seem like an insult to some, but we can’t have it all at once,” said Ronald Washington.

“You get an education if you want more money. That’s a starter job, so I don’t go for that,” said David Bowington. “Our economy can’t support it and we’re going to lose jobs, I think.”

The mayor’s proposal now heads to City Council, where he anticipates a push-back from Sawant.

“I have never seen a situation where everyone is happy. I’m a politician, not a saint,” said Murray.

Here is the proposed minimum wage increases in a graph: