Seattle mayor Ed Murray's advisory committee on the minimum wage is finally, after lots of churning and surprisingly minimal leaking, expected to release recommendations this week. Perhaps we'll get a comprehensive policy for getting all of Seattle to $15 an hour soon, or perhaps we'll get a series of guiding principles, or maybe even multiple options. We can't know by press time. (Check our blog for the latest: slog.thestranger.com.) But what we do know is that it's not an end to this hugely consequential policy fight. It's more like the beginning of the real show.
It's city council time. Because the real power here is in the hands of the council, which will be responsible for passing actual minimum-wage legislation. (Despite understandable focus elsewhere until now, the power's been theirs all along.) Council members will say they're listening widely and intently on this issue, and that may be true, but they're not at all required to use what comes from the mayor or his committee. So what can we expect when this lands in their laps?
The council's primary goal is simple: avoid ballot measures from any and all sides. It might be tempting to punt this decision to city voters in November, but with a slew of dueling minimum-wage ballot measures being aggressively campaigned for—or threatened—by various coalitions, the likelihood of a good outcome at the ballot box is low. There could even be contradictory outcomes helped along by big-time investments of national money, complicating everything. So it's in the council's interest to pass progressive legislation that works for Seattle and won't be challenged at the polls. How in the world will they do that? Where will the council members stand as they try? Good question! Because...
It's District Time
Council Members Bruce Harrell, Jean Godden, and Sally Bagshaw have already filed to run in 2015 in their newly formed districts. (Remember last year's vote in favor of moving to district elections in Seattle? It's changing everything, including the contours of this debate.) Those three council members will surely be looking toward their next election as they tackle the minimum wage—meaning Harrell will have to play to diverse Southeast Seattle (both immigrant-owned small businesses with small margins and low-income workers who need a raise), while Bagshaw's looking for votes in tony downtown, Queen Anne, and Magnolia. (Side note: One of Bagshaw's favorite tricks seems to be waiting until the last minute to try to slip in a seemingly small amendment that fundamentally changes a bill. Watch for it!)
A Higher Wage Is a Women's Issue
Council Member Jean Godden is not often bold in her voting; she's quite comfortable in the bland middle of the road. But she's also passionate about gender pay equity, and a minimum-wage raise will be a huge coup for women, who are overrepresented in low-wage industries. They're also overrepresented in tipped occupations, so really, it would make sense for Godden to oppose moves by the business lobby to create a lower wage for tipped workers. Will she actually go that far? It seems unlikely, but Godden still surprises sometimes.
The Council President Loves Data
Council President Tim Burgess can be conservative at times—not the gun-toting kind, the gentle, Seattle, pro-business kind. But he also lives for data, data, data—and the data-filled reports the city has received on the minimum wage so far fall markedly on the higher-wages-are-good-for-us side of things. At an April 12 meeting of the council's minimum-wage committee, Burgess confirmed this in an exchange with UC Berkeley researcher Ken Jacobs. "We like to pride ourselves on the fact that we want to be data-driven," Burgess said. "And the evidence that you're presenting suggests that this increase, at least to the level that these other cities have taken the minimum wage, is not going to cause significant harm to the business community." And yet, Burgess continued, business owners tell the council they believe it will cause them "great harm." What to do? Just follow the data, Jacobs responded. The question for Burgess: Will he?
The Ultimate Centrist
The chair of the council's minimum-wage committee, Sally Clark, has a magical superpower that allows her to be on all sides of an issue at once. It can be annoying, but as the council has to please so many factions, it may come in handy here. Can Clark's ability to agree with everyone all the time allow her to broker a final deal in the legislative end times of this fight?
Wild Card or Kingmaker?
Council Member Kshama Sawant could well sit out an eventual compromise that concedes too much—a "Swiss cheese" law, as she calls loophole-heavy proposals. But if she does get on board with a council bill, she could offer an activist stamp of approval that might quash radical opposition.
No matter what goes down in terms of political intrigue, on Wednesday, April 23, the increased centrality of the city council becomes literal: a ring of labor activists plans to circle City Hall itself, calling for a strong $15 proposal. Attention, human chain: Make sure to wave at the second floor!