It would cost the city of Seattle about $1 million annually to give a $15 minimum wage to an estimated 800 city workers who now make less, according to calculations by city officials.
The $1 million price tag does not include about 475 youth in a city employment program designed to give low-income teens job experience. Extending raises to those young people making the state minimum wage would add another $500,000 to the cost.
It’s also not yet known if raising the starting salaries of the lowest paid city workers, most of them part-time or seasonal employees, would prompt their unions to seek higher wages for more experienced employees doing the same work. The city’s labor contract with its largest collection of unions expired Dec. 31 and is being renegotiated.
Mayor Ed Murray on Monday called the city’s intention to raise employees’ pay to a $15 minimum wage “an important first step at providing a livable wage for all workers in Seattle.” He said he would forward legislation to the City Council for approval.
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Union leaders praised the move and said each local was doing its own analysis of the potential impacts.
“What the mayor is doing is great,” said Guadalupe Perez, co-chairwoman of the Coalition of City Unions, which includes professional and technical employees, AFSCME and a host of laborers including electricians, carpenters, painters and boilermakers.
“We have not looked into the details of how it would impact other job classifications,” she said.
The Seattle Times requested the budget calculations — done by the City Budget Office and Personnel Department — under the state Public Disclosure Act.
Murray issued an executive order Jan. 4 to lay the financial groundwork to move all city employees to a $15-an-hour minimum, fulfilling a campaign pledge to work toward a higher minimum throughout the city. Before taking office, he formed an income-inequality advisory committee including business and labor leaders and asked them to recommend legislation by April.
The City Council also has formed a special minimum-wage committee and will hold public meetings on the issue throughout the coming months. The mayor has asked his committee to keep its deliberations secret.
Both Murray, the council and the advisory committee are under pressure from unions and activists, including newly elected City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, to come up with a plan to give all Seattle workers a $15 minimum wage or face an initiative campaign for the November ballot that could compete with the task force’s recommendation.
The state’s minimum wage is now $9.32, or about $19,300 per year.
Murray’s initiative also highlights some questions facing the bid to boost wages, including whether to extend the $15 to youth or other inexperienced workers hired under internship or training programs, and whether there would be a snowball effect on other wages.
Murray said the Seattle Youth Employment Program, which offers year-around job training and summer internships to low-income, mostly minority high-school students, provides “a valuable introduction to the workforce.”
But he said he would wait for the advisory panel’s recommendations about how to fairly compensate workers outside the “regular city employee structure,” including internships.
The budget analysis found that while most city workers already earn at least $15 an hour or are on a pay scale to do so within a few steps, some seasonal and part-time workers have to work through five steps before reaching that amount.
About 275 park attendants, for example, the majority of whom work fewer than 30 hours a week at community centers and other recreation facilities, now start at $12.74 an hour. Raising their salaries to $15 an hour would cost the city about $216,000 annually.
About 440 part-time employees at the Seattle Center who usher, tend doors and take tickets at KeyArena and McCaw Hall now start at $11.07 an hour. Boosting their pay would cost about $194,000 a year, according to the city’s estimate.
Budget director Ben Noble said the city might be able to recoup some of those costs by charging more to those who book Seattle Center facilities. He said the overall cost of the initiative would come from general-fund revenues, which have rebounded with the economy.
Ian Gordon, co-chairman of the coalition of city unions and the business representative for Local 1239, which represents park department laborers, said the parks’ budget was hard hit during the recession and wages stagnated.
“It’s been long overdue,” he said about the possible raises.
Currently, those parks attendants get step increases of about 50 cents. Four wage classifications are below $15 an hour. That means all workers would get almost as much as those who had reached the fifth step.
Gordon said he could foresee many other employees wanting more pay as the lowest wages in the city are raised, but added, “there’s no guarantee.”
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org