Its not a deadline until Mayor Ed Murray says its a deadline.
  • A.H.
  • It's not a deadline until Mayor Ed Murray says it's a deadline.
At City Hall on Friday, Mayor Ed Murray spoke confidently about the minimum-wage legislation he planned to transmit to the city council for their deliberation and eventual vote. The legislation, he said, "will be in their hands by 2:30 this afternoon," adding, "I think we’ll have at least five sponsors."

But it's late Monday afternoon now, and the legislation hasn't made an appearance on the city council's second floor.

Instead, its arrival has been pushed back a couple of times—we heard end of day Friday, then noon today, now nothing defined. Where's that legislation? What's the hold-up? Mayoral spokesman Jeff Reading says, via e-mail, that staffers are still "working hard to finalize the legislation," which included working over the weekend, and asked us to "keep in mind that this process is actually moving at a very accelerated pace compared with what is typical."

But dude did say 2:30 p.m. Friday was his deadline, right? "The mayor mentioned 2:30 p.m. on Friday, but I think calling it a 'deadline' isn't quite accurate," writes Reading. "We want to send something over when it’s done, and it’s not done yet. That’s all!"

The council has a minimum wage committee meeting tomorrow night, mainly to allow for a lot of public comment, and then they also have a work session to discuss the legislation that's scheduled for Thursday morning. So surely they're racing to make that Thursday deadline (that is, if you'd call it a "deadline," which, based on the way things have been going, Murray might not).

In the meantime, council members are carefully positioning themselves for a debate that may not have much, well, room for debate. The mayor will be sending down legislation that's essentially already been decided on by his advisory committee, in a delicate compromise that could be unraveled completely by a single council amendment. So what are city council members supposed to do? Amend the font it's printed in? Or try to substantively amend it anyway and risk dismantling the deal?

The council seems to understand the risks, even though it might be in their political interest to score points with clever changes. When it comes to making substantive changes, Council Member Jean Godden says, "I can't think that we could do that unless we want the thing to crash down like a house of cards." She also says it's her understanding that "there's probably a majority of council that are on board with this plan, and I'd put myself in that category."

Adding her own metaphor, Council Member Sally Clark says she thinks "there are big strings and there are little strings. So if you pull on a big string, you have to start thinking about if you'll have to remake an entire compromise." But smaller changes might be made without undoing the legislation. For example, as far as Clark's concerned, the start date of the legislation "seems like a smaller string." If the start date gets pushed back from January to, say, March, it would allow more time for education and outreach. But move the start-date too far, and it undermines the plan's goal of bumping up wages soon. Clark's not sure yet what start date she supports.

Council Member Mike O'Brien sees at least "two areas we can focus on without unraveling the deal." One, as has been floated before, is enforcement. That's also where Council Member Nick Licata is hanging his hat: a city office of labor standards enforcement that would be adequately funded and staffed to make sure that this complicated wage deal gets enforced properly throughout the city. The other place O'Brien sees an opening is "how we measure and study this going forward." As council has looked into the issue this year, says O'Brien, it's been "really powerful" to have good data to rely on, much of it from studies of other minimum wage laws. "It would be great for the City of Seattle to be adding to that body of evidence," O'Brien says. He hopes the city can partner with UW to get research going even before the law goes into effect.

The trickier piece—though a start time later than January may well be a bigger deal than Clark thinks—will be if council members try to bring up business-friendly amendments like training wages or permanently retaining the tip/benefit credit that, in the mayor's deal, phases out. Asked about permanently retaining the tip/benefit credit, Clark says "that’s a big string. I haven’t heard any council members bring that up yet." But training wages? She calls it a "loaded phrase," and one that council members may have been tossing around without realizing what they were stepping into, but she doesn't rule it out completely, either. Organizations that help people with low job skills find employment want to make sure their clients are still "competitive," she says, and a starting wage for a short period could be an answer to that. How to institute it without, as she puts it, "redefining 'minimum wage'"? She's not sure. "I don’t think anyone wants to unintentionally waltz into that mine field," she says.

For now, the council's waiting to see the legislation itself, and who co-sponsors it out of the gate may depend on the details. But the idea that it's precarious—a house of cards, a mine field—has definitely made its mark.