Socialist Alternative

Kshama Sawant’s Response to Mayor’s $15 Minimum Wage Proposal

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Under the pressure of working-class grassroots campaigns, on May 1st, 2014, Seattle Democratic Mayor Ed Murray announced his office’s historic proposal for a $15/hour minimum wage, raising Seattle’s minimum wage to the highest in the country for a major city in the U.S.  However, his proposal includes numerous loopholes:

  • Large companies have three years to phase in the $15 wage, four years if they offer healthcare benefits
  • Small businesses (defined as having fewer than 500 employees nationwide) will have phase-in periods of anywhere between five and seven years
  • Healthcare and tips will be counted towards the minimum wage (significantly decreasing employees’ wages below $15 / hour)
  • The Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) that links the minimum wage to inflation (the rising cost of living) will not go into effect until after the gradual phase-in of the minimum wage, 11 years from now for employees at businesses with under 500 employees

Here is the transcript of Socialist Alternative Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s response:

“The fact that the City Council of a major city in the U.S. will discuss in the coming weeks raising the minimum wage to $15 is a testament to how working people can push back against the status quo of poverty, inequality, and injustice. The movement, starting with fast food workers nationwide, and pushed forward by [the union-backed ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour in Seattle’s suburb] SeaTac and 15 Now, is forcing business and the political establishment to accept raising our wages.

The proposal that has been announced is a result of the pressure from this movement. Unfortunately, it also reflects the attempt of business to water down what the working people of Seattle want. While business has lost the public battle on $15, they were given a seat at the table to pursue their wish list, while low-wage workers were left out.

That is why our work is far from done. The most important task now is to build our movement, 15 Now, in order to put pressure on the City Council.

Let’s look at the proposal announced:

  • the 4 year phase-in for big business
  • 11 year delay
  • tip credit
  • health care deductions

I don’t support phasing-in for big business. McDonalds and Starbucks have no justification for keeping their workers in poverty for a day longer.

For workers in Seattle, 11 years is a very long time to wait for a decent wage. Every year of a phase-in is another year of poverty for workers.

I do not support tip credit. Tip credit has proven itself to be a cause of poverty for tipped workers in the 43 states in which it exists. It also overturns the 1988 democratic majority vote by Washington State workers.

I do not see why businesses should get a healthcare credit. Business executives don’t have to make a choice between a decent wage and health care for their families. Why should workers have to make this false choice? Workers make this city run, and they deserve wages, tips, and healthcare.

The proposal I support is the proposal labor and I brought to the Income Inequality Advisory Committee, on which there was never a vote. Labor members and I had put forward a proposal that:

  • had no phase-in for big business. Big business had to pay $15 now
  • had a 3 year phase-in for small businesses and nonprofits
  • had no tip credit or healthcare credit, and would be far stronger

That proposal was not voted on, even though workers in Seattle overwhelmingly support it.

I will continue to argue for that and push the City Council to correct the present recommendation.

I support any proposal to increase of the living standards of working people.

But a supermajority of the working people of Seattle have already said they want a strong measure on $15. This proposal does not live up to the wishes of Seattle’s workers. That’s why I voted “No” on this recommendation.

The Income Inequality Advisory Committee recommendation falls short of the $15 Seattle workers have clearly said they want and need.

But this proposal, which would raise the minimum wage, also shows how the campaigns of workers are beginning to pay off.

This proposal still needs to be voted on in the City Council. Let’s keep the pressure high over the next days and weeks.

This is a historic moment to recognize the power of grassroots organizing. It is a call to action.

March on May Day this afternoon with me, 15 Now, and our immigrant sisters and brothers.

We still need a backup option should the city council fail to pass $15, which is why we need to keep up the pressure through signature collection.

Join the movement of 15 Now to gather signatures to let the City Council know we are watching.”

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