Tacoma voters may cast ballots on $15 minimum wage in November

TACOMA -- Tacoma voters may get the chance to decide if the minimum wage in the city will be raised to $15 an hour. This week, activists submitted thousands of signatures to get the issue on the November ballot.

Bowling can be a lot of fun. But Reggie Frederick says running a bowling alley is a lot of work. He and his family have owned Chalet Bowl in Tacoma’s Proctor District for more than 30 years.

“I went 20 years without a paycheck in the summertime, May through August.”

He might be forced to forgo his pay again, if the effort to raise Tacoma’s minimum wage to $15 an hour is successful.

“I’d have to raise my prices, it has to come from somewhere,” he says. “Then you have to do some creative staffing. We'd end up working more as owners, we would probably let go of one or two employees and change the hours.”

Volunteers with 15 Now Tacoma say right now, employees are the ones struggling. That’s why they’re trying to get an initiative on the November ballot to raise the minimum wage to $15 on January 1st.

“People need to be able to pay their bills and their rent on time,” says Mirko Clarke. “Right now, some people just aren't able to do that on a minimum wage.”

Their proposition would make an exception for small businesses that make less than $300,000 a year in gross revenue.

“More than 4,000 businesses will be exempt,” says Clarke. “The idea behind that is if a new business opens up, they will be attracted to Tacoma because they won't have to pay $15 right away.”

But Tom Pierson with the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce says all businesses need time to adjust to new labor costs. In Seattle, owners are being given at least three years to phase in $15 an hour.

“For us in Tacoma to be ahead,” he says, “to be the first with the citywide $15 minimum wage, the highest in the nation, that's pretty extreme.”

He’s hoping a task force that the mayor created last week will be able to come up with a compromise that will help workers without hurting businesses.

Frederick is on that task force. He says he hopes voters will look carefully at the issue before they decide whether Tacoma can afford $15 now.

“No matter what initiative or initiatives, propositions are on the ballot, make sure you read, make sure you're informed.”

The Pierce County auditor is checking signatures now, to see if the 15 Now measure will qualify for the ballot.

As for the task force, the mayor has given them until June 30 to make recommendations to the City Council.