Mayor Murray announcing the compromise deal with members of his advisory committee. Today, some of those committee members arent looking so happy.
  • City of Seattle
  • Mayor Murray announced the compromise deal on May 1 flanked by members of his advisory committee. Today, some of those committee members aren't looking so happy.
Heading into the first city council meeting on the mayor's minimum-wage legislation today, council members face a rapidly changing landscape even though, just days ago, this all looked like a done deal. Key members of Mayor Ed Murray's advisory committee, which carefully negotiated the compromise deal on the $15 minimum wage, are deeply concerned by statements the mayor has made about his legislation and a document the council's central staff composed that all seem to fundamentally alter the deal committee members agreed to in early May. They're also concerned by ongoing lobbying from the business community to water down the bill.

A lot of things shifted late yesterday. Perhaps the most striking: At an evening delegate meeting of the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, delegates unanimously approved a resolution calling on the Seattle City Council to strengthen the legislation in favor of workers. The changes they're asking for aren't minor, either: The resolution calls on the city council to "shorten the length of the phase-in to a reasonable amount of time and remove the health-care phase-in, training wage, and any tip penalty" from the ordinance, along with strengthening enforcement provisions.

Did the executive secretary of the MLKCLC, David Freiboth, who sat on the mayor's advisory committee, urge members to vote down this resolution and support the mayor's legislation?

Nope. "There's been some effort by the mayor to ask us to hold back, and not move this tonight," he told the room of about five dozen delegates from area unions. "I think we should move it. And I think we should tell our allies and anybody else who's listening that we're not happy with what's going on."

Why the sudden break? Does this make the labor council the first ones to walk away from full-throated support of the mayor's proposal? Not according to Freiboth and others, who say that they're just trying to counteract the active behind-the-scenes lobbying by the business community, which they see as unfortunately successful.

Mayor Murray told the Seattle Times recently that he'd actually changed the deal "since the agreement came out." He added a training wage component to his bill, even though he was "not sure" that labor had really agreed to it. "But we did it anyway," Murray told the Seattle Times editorial board.

A sign outside the room where labor delegates voted.
  • AM
  • A sign outside the room where labor delegates voted last night.
"I've gotta say, I'm a little disappointed in our mayor right now," Freiboth told the room last night, explaining that Murray had gotten "careless" in his comments about the training wage provision, which labor thought was simply a "compliance issue with state law." Murray, instead, said that the city would actually advocate to get businesses the necessary certificates from the state to allow them to pay lower wages. "They're claiming that they misspoke," fumed Freiboth toward the mayor's office. "I'm not sure I buy that... I kinda have an idea when I'm getting played. And I think we're getting played."

A source confirms that Murray reached out to labor council members yesterday to ask them not to move this resolution forward. Murray did release a statement after that Seattle Times interview reiterating that his goal was simply to follow state law, not add a new kind of subminimum wage. But it doesn't seem to have placated labor.

It's not just the mayor that's disappointing labor, though. A memo prepared by members of the city council's central staff, Dan Eder and Patricia Lee, for today's meeting lists legislative options the council may take that depart from the mayor's proposal. Noticeably, they favor business interests, even though a recent poll of Seattle voters showed strong support for the mayor's plan and components that are more friendly to labor than business. The options given in the staff memo include things like adding additional categories of "subminimum training wages," exempting the smallest of businesses from the minimum wage completely, and allowing even enormous nonprofits to follow the rules for small businesses.

In response, eight members of the mayor's advisory committee—including Freiboth and committee co-chair David Rolf—signed and sent a letter late last night to city council members, signaling their worry that the city council is looking to water down the legislation dramatically. "We are very concerned that the City Council's Central Staff is presenting options to the Council to weaken the Mayor's proposal," it reads in part. "The options the Central Staff contemplates... are options that the [mayor's committee] considered and rejected as part of the negotiated settlement." If the council is indeed reviewing substantive amendments, then these signees suggest some of their own, including: never counting tips at all, shortening the phase-in, eliminating training wages, and stronger enforcement. Still, they clarify that they still "believe the Mayor's compromise proposal remains the best way forward."

But they're not the only ones who are recommending some changes. The Seattle Restaurant Alliance, an affiliate of the anti-minimum-wage-raise National Restaurant Association, sent a letter to the council yesterday, too, a few hours before these committee members. In it, the SRA tells the council that restaurant industry "solutions" had not been sufficiently incorporated into the mayor's legislation. They proposed changes—for one, a six-month training wage, so restaurants can "continue to hire youth, the disadvantaged and others in our community that simply need a second chance." They also advocate making the temporary tip and benefit credits permanent, changing the way employees are counted so more business count as small, and putting off the start date of the whole thing to July of 2015.

Restaurant owner and mayoral committee member David Meinert also sent a letter to the council, shortly after the mayor's compromise proposal was announced, saying he "only agreed to 'tentatively' support the proposal" and that he still favored things like a permanent tip credit and the addition of training wages. He says he was just alerting them to his position, not actively lobbying, and that he thinks it's best at this point to move the mayor's deal forward. Other business advocates on the committee explained shortly after the announcement that while they might personally support the deal, they couldn't speak for members of the business organizations they were there to represent—their members still have "questions" and "concerns" to take up with the council.

The Seattle City Council is now in the unenviable position of holding together a tenuous compromise in the face of a growing storm. The bright side: Nearly everyone involved says the deal, as-is, is grudgingly acceptable, but that if their opponents get to shift the debate, they'll be right there on the other side.

Can the council wrangle this? I guess we'll see, starting today. Good luck.