Seattle City Council members will consider amendments to the mayor’s $15 minimum-wage proposal Thursday and could enact the historic legislation as early as Monday.
The council, acting as a special committee, will consider a variety of proposed changes, including one that seeks to delay the start date from January to April, and another to let the city create a lower wage for workers under 18 or in apprentice or training programs.
Labor leaders object to both of those amendments, saying they would weaken the compromise plan reached by labor, business and community leaders over four months of debate and negotiation. That plan calls for raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 over three to four years for businesses with more than 500 employees, and over five to seven years for smaller businesses.
Under the mayor’s plan, all workers would get the first in a series of stepped raises Jan. 1.
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“We are concerned about any weakening of the deal. It’s exquisitely, delicately balanced,” said Steve Williamson, director of community affairs for UFCW Local 21, which participated in Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee and supported the compromise plan
But Councilmember Sally Clark, head of the council’s select committee on the minimum wage, said some changes could help Seattle businesses adjust to the higher pay requirements.
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve
heard concerns that any change would constitute an unraveling of the final compromise. I think there are places where we can make small changes that improve the committee’s work,” Clark said.
She argued that delaying implementation three months would allow the city to do extensive outreach and education about a complex new law that will affect every business and employee.
The training-wage proposal was not debated by the mayor’s committee but was added by Murray, who said it paralleled state minimum-wage law. The amendment to be considered by the City Council committee would allow the city to enact rules for sub-minimum wages for teens under 18.
Under state law, 14- and 15-year-olds can be paid 85 percent of the state minimum wage. The state also can grant certificates to exempt some employers who offer apprenticeship or training programs, although very few have been issued.
An opposing amendment, introduced by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, would remove the city’s discretion to issue training certificates. She said higher unemployment among youth is caused by a lack of jobs, not by the minimum wage.
Sawant’s Socialist Alternative Party is collecting signatures for a November ballot measure that would raise the minimum wage to $15 on Jan. 1 for businesses with more than 250 workers and would give smaller businesses three years to reach the new higher wage.
Sawant has introduced her own amendment to the mayor’s proposal that would essentially adopt the 15 Now approach on faster timelines. It also would eliminate a credit for tips and health care for businesses that is now part of the mayor’s plan.
If that amendment fails, Sawant has asked the council to at least eliminate the tip credit, which allows some businesses to count between 50 cents and $3 in tips toward the higher minimum wage for up to 11 years.
“I think it’s important to have other politicians explain in public why they support leaving workers in poverty for another decade,” she said.
Other amendment proposals range from adding language that says a majority of low-wage workers are women to increasing penalties employers could face for not following the new law.
Some advocates for immigrant- and minority-owned small businesses say they support a training wage for workers with limited English and work skills. Taylor Hoang, a leader of the Ethnic Economic Coalition, said a sub-minimum wage opens up jobs for immigrants and allows them to get the experience to move on to higher-paying jobs.
She said it also “will allow a better survival rate for small mom-and-pop businesses and others who want to open a new business.”
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes