Sawant Continues to Take Activist Role on Minimum Wage Debate
City council member Kshama Sawant is among the first to sign a petition for a $15 minimum wage, isolating herself from a likely 8-member council majority in favor of Mayor Ed Murray's proposal.
As Mayor Ed Murray prepared to send his $15 minimum wage proposal to the city council today, city council member Kshama Sawant, who ran on on a platform of a $15 minimum wage, signed the petition for an alternative 15Now-sponsored minimum-wage proposal outside the downtown McDonald's.
The petition would put an amendment to the city charter increasing the city minimum wage to $15 an hour on the November ballot; the city council can also pass its own proposal without an election.
At the press conference, Sawant portrayed herself as an "activist" (her term) foil to Murray and his "big business" cronies.
However, Sawant left open the possibility that she will ultimately support Murray's compromise option, which won the support of 21 out of 24 task force members with one of the dissenting votes, and the one abstention, coming from business. The other came from Sawant.
Murray's proposal, a complicated scheme under which the city would enforce a $15 minimum wage for big business and small business under different time tables over the next three to seven years, and would ultimately be raised to $18.13 for all businesses, large and small, by 2025, reportedly has eight sponsors on the city council.
Labor, including the lefty grocery workers' union, UFCW Local 21, supports Murray's proposal, which would raise wages for thousands of workers immediately, and phase in wage increases for employees at smaller businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees) over time.
After red-T-shirt-clad 15Now representatives chanted "Hold the burgers, hold the fries, make my wages supersized!"—Sawant (spotted at the Olive Way Starbucks on Capitol Hill last night) told reporters she wants to get rid of the phase-in period for very large businesses like Subway and Starubcks, increase funding to enforce the new minimum-wage requirement, and eliminate the so-called "tip credit," which would allow employers to pay less than $15 an hour if customers make that amount up in tips.
Sawant left open the possibility that she'll ultimately support Murray's proposal, if it includes some of the concessions she's seeking.
Sawant said her ultimate decision will be up to "the movement" she represents, the Socialist Alternative Party, and not an individual decision.
She did leave open the possibility that she'll ultimately support Murray's proposal, if it includes some of the concessions she's seeking.
"The decision on whether or not to activate the charter amendment depends on what the city council approves," Sawant said. "There's no room for large corporations to wait three or four years" before paying $15 an hour.
"The fact that we are standing here and talking about a charter amendment for $15 an hour is a victory, it's not a defeat," she added. This day has dawned because we fought our grassroots movement to get a $15 minimum wage."
Jess Spear, the spokeswoman for 15Now, called the charter amendment proposal a "safety valve," but conceded that Murray's proposal is "a step in the right direction."
Afterward, the 15Now activist went inside the McDonald's, where they tried and failed to convince a cashier to sign their petition. They also bought coffee and juice.