Group Pushing A $15/Hour Minimum Wage In Seattle Plans To File Ballot Initiative Language

Mar 28, 2014

Ever since Seattle Mayor Ed Murray set up a committee to study how to hike Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, there’s been the faint sound of a clock ticking. Now that clock is getting louder. 

It comes from activists who say they plan to put the issue to voters in November if the committee and the Seattle City Council settle on what the activists consider to be a watered-down approach. They object to recent suggestions such as exempting employees who earn tips.

So Jess Spear with the labor-backed group 15 Now says they’ll be filing ballot initiative language in the next couple of weeks.

"It sounds to me like we need to continue to put that pressure on, that they’re not hearing our voices loud and clear, so maybe we need to be a little louder and a ballot initiative is a way to amplify it," Spear said at a news conference with council member Kshama Sawant. 

Spear says even if they go ahead soon and file ballot initiative language, they won’t decide whether to collect signatures until the committee releases its recommendations, probably at the end of April.

Kshama Sawant

Sawant is a key voice in all of this. The $15-an-hour wage floor is her signature issue, and she’s on the mayor’s committee. She says she will continue working with the committee to come up with a substantive proposal, but says if that fails, she thinks workers should pursue alternatives such as an initiative.  

"If we don't get a strong $15 measure through this process, then what else could workers have as a recourse?" Sawant said. "And that opens up the question of ballot initiative, but I want to make it clear to everybody that it's from the perspective of having alternatives."

Sawant recently offered a compromise of setting the higher wage immediately for large companies but phasing it in over three years for small businesses and non-profits. She says she does not support other suggestions floated recently by business owners, such as including health insurance and other benefits when calculating the $15 wage, or setting a lower wage for teenagers or trainees.