Two potential ballot challenges to Seattle’s $15 minimum- wage plan have emerged, quashing supporters’ hopes that the compromise hashed out by business and labor leaders and approved Monday by the City Council would diffuse competing proposals.
A group of local small-business owners under the name Forward Seattle filed Thursday for a city charter amendment to raise the minimum wage to $12.50, phased in over five years. Angela Cough, the co-owner of Flying Apron Bakery in Fremont and the campaign chairwoman, said a smaller raise would be more doable for business and cause less harm to the economy.
She noted that the economic studies done for Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee could only project no negative effects with a raise up to $13, as no city had yet gone to $15.
“We feel that this issue is of such magnitude and will have such an impact on the economy, that the people of Seattle should be able to vote,” Cough said.
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The group will have a steep hill to climb. It must gather 31,000 signatures by the end of the month to meet city deadlines to qualify the measure for the November ballot. Cough said it would use both volunteer and paid signature gatherers.
City campaign-disclosure reports show the group has raised about $9,000 from local businesses.
Cough said it has not been contacted by any out-of-state organizations interested in helping to defeat the $15 minimum- wage law here. The ordinance passed by the City Council would phase-in the raise over three to seven years, depending on the size of business.
Wednesday, anti-tax activist Tim Eyman filed a statewide initiative that would require the minimum wage to be uniform and consistent throughout the state. Eyman’s measure, called the Fair and Uniform Minimum Wage Initiative, was one of five he filed Wednesday.
Meanwhile, 15 Now organizers are gathering signatures for a charter amendment that would raise the minimum wage on big businesses to $15 on Jan. 1 and give small businesses a three-year phase-in. Campaign manager Jess Spear said the group will decide in the next week whether to go forward with its ballot measure; the group has been claiming victory since Monday’s historic City Council vote.
She noted that polling in January and May showed strong city support for $15. “$12.50 is not enough to take workers out of poverty,” she said.
David Rolf, SEIU 775 president and co-chairman of Murray’s committee, said he was “deeply disappointed” that measures to undo the $15 plan had been filed.
He denounced the backers as “right-wing ideologues” and predicted that their ballot proposals would not succeed. He said the $15 minimum wage would add millions of dollars to the local economy and help low-wage workers get out of poverty.
Murray, who pressured both labor and business to reach a deal after four months of debate and negotiations, said he wasn’t surprised that opposition had surfaced.
“I’ve been here before,” Murray said, noting that a state transportation package that raised the gas tax in 2005, a gay civil-rights bill and gay marriage all faced statewide initiative challenges and were defeated by voters.
Although no out-of-state money has surfaced yet in either effort to defeat the $15 minimum-wage deal, Murray said he expected that to happen.
“There are business interests outside of Seattle who think if they don’t stop it here, they won’t be able to stop it anywhere,” Murray said. “They’ve chosen an interesting battleground. I think we can win.”
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes