Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a proposal for a $15 municipal minimum wage only one day after Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted against raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Declaring it a “historic” day for progressives seeking to address the issue of income inequality, Murray laid out his complex and controversial proposal, which would be phased in over several years at different rates for large and small businesses. At least initially, income from tips and employer-provided health insurance would be taken into account.
If the City Council agrees, Murray said, Seattle will prove itself to be “an incubator of democracy,” leading the national conversation to address “the growing problem of income inequality.”
Murray invoked President Obama and Pope Francis as he introduced his plan.
The president, Murray said, has called the growing gap between rich and poor “one of the great issues of our time.” The pope, the new mayor added, blames income inequality for “preventing us from fulfilling our responsibility to provide for the common good.”
Increasing concern nationally about the rise in income inequality and the erosion of the middle class has led to a patchwork of efforts to improve worker pay. Low-wage workers in fast-food and other industries have led the way over the last two years, calling for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Cities and states have raised their minimum wages, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, West Virginia, New York, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington, D.C. None has increased wages as high as $15. California’s $8 minimum will rise to $9 on July 1.
Washington state has the highest state minimum in the country, at $9.37 an hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.
San Francisco’s minimum wage stands at $10.74. The Los Angeles City Council is debating a $15.37 minimum wage for hotel workers. The Bay Area city of Richmond, at next week’s City Council meeting, will consider gradually raising its $9 municipal minimum wage to $12.30. Voters in the tiny city of SeaTac, Wash., recently approved a $15 minimum for certain workers in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport area.
The SeaTac proposal and pressure from its proponents helped make an increased minimum wage an integral part of the 2013 campaign for Seattle mayor and several City Council members.
Although Murray embraced the idea during his campaign that unseated Mike McGinn as mayor, it was local activist Kshama Sawant who made a $15 minimum the cornerstone of her successful run for City Council.