This morning, 15 Now finally made good on a longtime threat to file their own minimum wage proposal as a city charter amendment. With King County Council member Larry Gossett and Sarah White, a local nurse practitioner and 15 Now activist, on hand, the group filed an amendment that has a dual purposes: (1) lighting a fire under the ass of slow-moving politicians, to get them to produce a minimum-wage proposal that 15 Now can support, and (2) showing they're ready to campaign for and pass their own proposal if the one that comes out of City Hall is too weak.
The contents of the proposal itself are also interesting, though not surprising: While 15 Now and city council member Kshama Sawant have talked about potential compromises to an immediate $15 wage hike, we now have details. This charter amendment would:
• Raise the minimum wage in Seattle for businesses with more than 250 full-time employees, or businesses that are part of a franchise, to $15 an hour starting on January 1, 2015
• Phase in that wage increase for nonprofits and non-franchise businesses with fewer than 250 full-time employees over the course of three years, starting at $11 in January 2015
• Adjust the city minimum wage annually by the same standard the state uses, the Consumer Price Index
• Strengthen wage-theft enforcement by establishing a private right of action for employees to take wage-theft claims directly to the courts, with a potential penalty of triple their damages (lost wages, tips, overtime, etc.) plus court costs
• Set up a community-based outreach and education program to alert employees, especially in low-wage sectors, of their rights
The campaign committee established to run this initiative is called Vote 15; their website is here. They actually filed four different proposals, a common practice to leave your options open; an alternate proposal would define small versus big businesses as under or over $15 million in gross revenue a year.
Once they get finalized ballot language in the next week or so, they'll be ready to start gathering signatures, which 15 Now organizer Phillip Locker says will begin at a big 15 Now conference on April 26. They'll need around 30,000 valid signatures to get a charter amendment on the ballot; Locker says the goal is at least 50,000.
He also says they'll leave open the possibility of not actually running a charter amendment or initiative at all. "We're practical people. We don't want to waste our time and energy on a November election if the city council will pass an adequate $15 minimum wage," says Locker. But it will have to get through city council by June if they're to convince 15 Now not to go ahead with the charter amendment, which Locker calls a "backup plan" and a "failsafe mechanism."
The mayor's committee is still meeting, through the end of April, to hash out their a compromise between business and labor interests. But word on the street is that the issue of total compensation—counting things like tips and health care toward an employer's minimum wage obligation—may bring the sides to a deadlock.
Another interesting thing: Now that there's an actual initiative happening, the ethics and elections rules governing this debate, as far as Council Member Sawant is concerned, will change dramatically. She and her city hall staffers had better be up to speed on where the lines are drawn.