Is the Momentum for a $15 Minimum Wage Ebbing?
When voters approved an ordinance requiring certain employers in the City of SeaTac to pay a $15 minimum wage last year, supporters celebrated the victory and vowed to build on the momentum. Seattle was quickly marked the next target, and city leaders eagerly jumped on the bandwagon, promising to increase the minimum wage for at least some workers in the city to $15.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray appointed the Income Inequality Advisory Committee to determine how best to implement the higher wage and tackle details such as whether it would be phased in over time or implemented at once, whether certain businesses or industries would be targeted or exempt and whether employers would be allowed to count other forms of employee compensation (such as tips) toward the wage. The committee was supposed to have a recommendation this week, but admitted they have been unable to come to consensus. Representatives of business want concessions, such as a tip credit, while representatives of labor refuse to budge.
Supporters of a $15 wage have warned they will put the issue to voters if the Seattle City Council does not take action; the organization 15 Now has already filed a city charter amendment. The group has held off gathering signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot, waiting instead for the committee’s recommendations. Given the committee’s stalemate, 15 Now is weighing whether to heed Mayor Murray’s pleas to give the committee more time (Murray says a ballot battle would “end up a mini-version of class warfare”), or start the signature gathering campaign.
The question is, will voters be receptive to a $15 minimum wage? While Mayor Murray contends there is “strong public support” in the city for such a wage, a recent poll of 400 Seattle voters shows the tide may be turning against it. In January, a poll showed 68% of Seattle voters in support of the higher wage, with just 25% opposed. Last week, another poll by the same firm found support has fallen to 48%, with 47% opposed.
Likely the vocal outcry from some of the city’s most iconic small businesses is having an impact on public opinion. While supporters counted on easily-villifed opposition from corporate giants like McDonalds, they may not have counted on the backlash from local small businesses. Small business owners who are self-proclaimed progressive liberal activists are strongly opposing the measure, warning they will be forced to lay off workers, reduce hours or benefits and raise prices. Some have said they will go out of business, or will move their business across city lines.
Minority and immigrant small business owners have joined the fight. A coalition of local chambers of commerce for Chinese, Hispanic, Korean and Vietnamese businesses is aggressively opposing a $15 wage. Some have said they have already tabled plans to hire new workers until the city makes a decision, while one employer said, “If I have to move out of Seattle, I will. It’s [a $15 wage] just too expensive.”