At a brown bag discussion (ahem ... "Lunch and Learn") at city hall this afternoon, $15 minimum wage advocates with the group 15Now.org said they would start collecting signatures on April 26 if they aren't satisfied with the proposal the emerges from Mayor Ed Murray's income inequality task force, which is supposed to come up with a new minimum-wage proposal by the end of next month.

(City ethics and elections director Wayne Barnett tells PubliCola he's looking into the question of whether the $15 proponents should have to register as a campaign committee, as a complaint filed this week by the backer of a competing minimum-wage initiative, Elizabeth Campbell, charges.)

Today's meeting was a chance for pro-$15 activists to brief the council on (and make the case for) their proposal. 

The speakers, at least two of whom worked on socialist council member Kshama Sawant's election campaign, endorsed Sawant's recent call for a phased-in $15 minimum that includes some exemptions for small businesses, but were adamant that they would not accept concessions like a "tip credit" or the inclusion of health care and other expenses as part of workers' "total compensation." 

"No other state in the country [counts such concessions toward their minimum wage], and we should not accept that here in Seattle," said Sawant's former campaign manager Ramy Khalil, calling the efforts "backdoor maneuvers by corporations to really water down the $15 minimum wage." 

And 15 Now organizer (and Sawant campaign consultant) Jess Spear pointed out that some 66 percent of tipped workers are women. Legalizing the "tip credit"—which would allow restaurant and bar owners to count tips against the $15 minimum, thus paying less than minimum wage—would "essentially legalize gender discrimination in the restaraunt industry," Spear said.

Well put: As survey after survey has shown, women are disproportionately concentrated in lower-paying jobs, making the $15 campaign as much a gender issue as it is an economic one.  

Spear was still on the Sawant campaign payroll as of mid-January of this year.

Sawant has not returned calls seeking to find out how she defines "small businesses," although at today's meeting, she indicated that she had not chosen a specific maximum business size. 

The council's committee on the minimum wage meets again this Friday at 9:30am.

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