On his third day as Seattle mayor Friday, Ed Murray positioned himself as a leader on the push toward a $15 minimum wage, even though he didn’t immediately change anyone’s paycheck.
Murray announced in his first City Hall news conference an executive order telling his staff to take the first steps toward raising the minimum wage for city workers to $15 an hour.
There are about 10,000 city employees, 600 of whom make less than $15 an hour. Some ushers, parks attendants and cashiers are paid between $10 and $15 an hour, but none make less than a $10 hourly wage, city budget director Ben Noble said.
Noble and the mayor’s personnel director, Susan Coskey, will “begin a process” to raise those employees’ pay, the new mayor said.
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The move builds on a populist issue that dominated local campaigns in 2013, including the mayor’s race. Before he even moved into City Hall, Murray assembled a panel to discuss raising the minimum wage citywide.
As Murray made his first move on the $15 wage issue, City Council members on the second floor were working on as many as three versions of legislation to raise the minimum wage.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who ran as a socialist on a platform of a $15 minimum wage for all workers, was moving into her office Friday. She said Murray’s move “shows the mayor’s office is feeling the pressure from below to act on the rhetoric from the campaign.”
SEIU Local 775 President David Rolf said the fact that the new mayor is making living wages a priority is great progress.
“I don’t see how you could do it much faster,” he said. “I think it’s got tremendous momentum, and tremendous public support, and I think once again Seattle is leading the nation.”
The city hasn’t finished an analysis of how much it would cost to raise wages or whether bumping up the lowest-paid city employees would have a snowball effect on other city wages.
The state minimum wage is $9.32 an hour.
Even as he expressed support for higher wages, Murray warned that the $15-an-hour wage issue is just one strategy to make Seattle more affordable.
“It would be a mistake to view this single issue as a panacea,” he said.
Murray said during the news conference that all King County employees make at least $15 an hour, but county spokeswoman Christine Lange said some part-time and temporary King County employees make less.
Murray’s proposal would not apply to thousands of city contractors, and Sawant sent out a statement late Friday urging him to expand it to them. Sawant kicked off her own effort Friday to raise the minimum wage citywide, launching 15now.org and announcing a Jan. 12 rally at the Seattle Labor Temple in Belltown.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @EmilyHeffter