Seattle mayoral candidate Ed Murray is vowing to press for a $15-an-hour city minimum wage if elected, but says the effort would proceed cautiously and with buy-in from business and labor.
During a news conference at his Capitol Hill campaign headquarters Tuesday, Murray said the $15 wage should be phased in — starting with ensuring city employees and contractors are paid at least that amount.
Next, Murray said, he’d target “fast-food brands and big-box retail” stores. Small businesses would be exempt.
Murray’s plan leaves plenty of details to be worked out later, including the timeline and the size of businesses that would be affected. He’d also consider a higher wage requirement for businesses that do not provide health insurance.
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“This is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It’s something we need to approach thoughtfully,” said Murray, the longtime Democratic state senator seeking to unseat incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn.
Washington state’s current minimum wage is $9.19 an hour. That’s the highest of any state, though California lawmakers recently approved a bill to bring that state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2016. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
Politically, Murray’s wage pledge serves as a counter to McGinn’s efforts to portray himself the true progressive and Murray as a tool of downtown business interests.
McGinn has generally championed the cause of low-wage workers, backing the city’s paid sick-leave ordinance and moving to block a planned Whole Foods in West Seattle over wage and benefit complaints raised by the grocery-workers union.
But McGinn has repeatedly stopped short of endorsing a $15-an-hour minimum wage for Seattle, saying the wage should be set by the state.
In a statement released by his campaign Tuesday, McGinn pivoted on that stance somewhat: “I support increasing the minimum wage — federal, state local, whatever it takes to get it done.”
McGinn then swiped at Murray’s plan, saying, “All he’s actually proposing to do is to convene people to talk more about ‘moving toward’ a higher minimum wage. Talk is cheap. Taking action is a lot harder.”
However, McGinn’s statement gave no indication he’d propose a city minimum-wage ordinance himself.
McGinn also noted darkly that Murray’s proposal does not mention hotel workers. “Is that because Richard Hedreen, a major hotel developer, is shoveling money into his campaign?” McGinn asked.
That was a reference to R.C. Hedreen Co., a hotel developer that has donated $10,000 to a political-action committee backing Murray’s campaign. The company has clashed with McGinn, who has said he’d use the city’s land-use authority to extract wage concessions demanded by unions at a proposed new Hedreen hotel.
Murray campaign spokesman Sandeep Kaushik rejected McGinn’s accusation, saying negotiations over minimum-wage legislation would “presumably include” hotel workers.
Seattle business leaders have reacted cautiously to the talk of a higher minimum wage.
In an interview this month, Maud Daudon, president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said the city ought to have a “bigger-picture conversation” about economic conditions of low-wage workers before jumping to a solution like a $15 minimum wage.
Some City Council members also have expressed skepticism about pushing too fast on a higher wage.
“It’s a nice vision. It’s not going to happen right away,” said Councilmember Nick Licata during an interview with The Seattle Times editorial board Tuesday.
The minimum-wage proposal was part of Murray’s “Economic Opportunity Agenda” outlining his strategy to improve the lives of lower-wage workers.
Murray’s plan also includes a new city Office of Labor Standards to ensure compliance with laws on wages and paid sick-leave. He also favors stepping up city efforts to help immigrant communities, including new a citywide English-learning initiative and a small-business “incubator” to assist new immigrant-owned businesses.
Seattle Times staff reporter Brian M. Rosenthal contributed to this report. Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner