Seattle Mayor Orders Wage Committee to Break Impasse on Minimum Wage
By Lynn Thompson
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray told members of his Income Inequality Advisory Committee on Tuesday that if they can't break their current impasse between business and labor, he will introduce his own proposal next week for a $15 minimum wage.
The committee has just one scheduled meeting remaining before Murray's April 24 deadline, and participants, including those in the mayor's office, say that a deal still could emerge in the eleventh hour of negotiations.
"Is that posturing? Is that a real deadline? I suspect that many of us will spend every waking hour between now and then trying to come up with an agreement," said one business representative on the committee who asked not to be identified because the mayor has asked that details of the committee's negotiations remain confidential.
Dave Freiboth, executive secretary of the King County Labor Council and a committee member, said he also thinks a resolution could still be worked out.
"I'm an old negotiator. We've got a week. There's still hope that we can reach an agreement that's palatable to both sides," he said.
Committee members and other observers at Tuesday's meeting said there are deep divisions over key elements of a minimum-wage proposal, including business' desire that tips and other forms of compensation be counted toward a $15 minimum.
The two sides also are at odds over how long a phase-in would last, and whether different sizes of business should be treated differently.
Murray's office declined to say how the mayor's proposal might deal with those issues if the committee doesn't come to an agreement.
The organization 15 Now and other low-wage-worker advocates earlier this week filed a city charter amendment that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour on Jan. 1 for all businesses with 250 workers or more. Minimum wages at smaller businesses would rise to $11 an hour in 2015, $13 in 2016 and $15 in 2017.
They've got a national conference planned for April 26 in Seattle, and say that if the mayor doesn't recommend a strong proposal, they will start collecting the approximately 30,000 signatures needed to qualify the charter amendment for the November ballot.
A business group, OneSeattle, last week rolled out its own proposal. It wants tips and the hourly value of other forms of compensation, such as health-care benefits, subtracted from a $15 minimum wage. It also has proposed a training wage for new workers, and a phase-in for all businesses regardless of size.
The group didn't specify a phase-in length, but one small-restaurant owner at the OneSeattle news conference suggested 10 years.
High-profile restaurant owners including Tom Douglas say that their tipped, front-of-house workers average $20 an hour and on some shifts make $40 or $50 an hour.
They say the $15 minimum-wage goal is meant to help workers who truly make the current minimum wage of $9.32 an hour. And they say that tips are included in federal wage statements so should be counted as salary.
But low-wage-worker advocates say most minimum-wage workers make far less than the servers at trendy Seattle restaurants.
Sage Wilson, spokesman for Working Washington, which helped organize fast-food worker protests last spring, said tipped workers, who include baristas, hotel maids, doormen and stylists at nail salons, are not only disproportionately women and minorities, but also are disproportionately poor.
"The whole goal of a $15 minimum wage is to lift workers out of poverty," he said.
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