In case you missed it: Jolt had the breaking news yesterday (and the city council staff memo, laying out the batch of potential changes), that council legislative staff, in prep for today's council hearing on Mayor Ed Murray's minimum wage proposal, had described a number of possible amendments to the compromise deal that would make the legislation more business friendly.
Yesterday evening, eight members from Murray's task force sent a letter to city council saying they were concerned about the business friendly changes.
Some of the suggested tweaks: Allowing large nonprofit organizations such as Swedish Hospital and the Gates Foundation to phase in the $15 minimum over time; allowing employers to phase in higher wages gradually, over time; and creating a sub-minimum "training wage," set at 85 percent of the new minimum for teens and all new employees.
We asked two of the key labor reps that worked out the original deal on Murray's task force what they made of the changes.
Service Employees International Union 775 leader David Rolf told us:
"We stand by the deal and want it to pass as is."
As for the "training wage" idea, he was okay with slight tweaks Murray had made to match current state standards for programs certified by the Department of Labor and Industries that allow training wages for programs serving employees with cognitive disabilities or trainees enrolled in vocational or educational apprenticeship programs, saying, "we accept that there's a desire to be consistent with state law, and that there are very narrow training wage concepts embedded in state statute which apply to a few hundred workers a year as determined by the Director of L&I."
But in reference to the council add on options allowing the 85 percent wage for teens and new employees, he said: "We oppose any other form of training wage or exemption."
Meanwhile, King County Labor Council leader David Freiboth, who was also on Murray's task force, laid more of the blame at Murray's feet, telling Fizz:
When it was originally discussed with me by mayoral staff, the training wage provision was couched as a compliance element regarding an existing, little used and tightly regulated, state program. After comments by Mayor Murray implying that this would be a training wage provision that the city would “advocate” for, I now oppose its inclusion. I am very disappointed that Mayor Murray continued to state, in his Seattle Times Ed Board interview the inaccurate observation that “I’m not sure we got them (labor) there, but we did it anyway”.
What a “training wage” represents is a sub minimum wage. Labor is adamantly opposed to loosely defined training wage proposals.
Later yesterday evening, around 8:30, after we published our story about the possible changes, eight lefty members from Murray's task force—including Rolf and Freiboth—sent a letter to city council saying they were concerned about the business friendly changes.
"Please find attached a letter signed by eight members of the Mayor’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee (IIAC) urging the Council to adopt the Mayor’s IIAC recommendations as submitted, and expressing our concern about the potential weakening of these recommendations suggested by a Council Central Staff memorandum that received media attention today. (See: http://www.seattlemet.com/news-and-profiles/publicola/articles/wednesday-jolt-the-tunnel-and-the-minimum-wage-may-2014)"
"We look forward to continuing our work with all of you to build a more prosperous and equitable Seattle."
And, as seasoned negotiators, the labor leaders seized the opportunity to put their worker-friendly demands back on the table.
Their letter states in part:
As members of Mayor Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee (IIAC), we have stood behind the Mayor’s proposal as a compromise solution negotiated in good faith between business, labor, nonprofit, and community representatives. We are very concerned that the City Council’s Central Staff is presenting options to the Council to weaken the Mayor’s proposal for Seattle 100,000 low wage workers. The options the Central Staff contemplates in a memo dated May 22nd to the Select Committee on Income Inequality and Minimum Wage – including training wages, longer phasein periods, and exemptions are options that the IIAC considered and rejected as part of the negotiated settlement. Reconsidering these options would cause major disruption to the compromise negotiated at the IIAC. If changes are being considered to the proposal, public opinion favors changes that strengthen the proposal for workers. Many of our colleagues in the progressive community have raised concerns about the Mayor’s proposal that are not reflected in the Central Staff’s document.
If the Council is reviewing amendments and alterations to the Mayor’s proposal, they should also review the following options that would lift more workers out of poverty in a faster way, including:
1. Don’t count tips toward minimum compensation . Allowing employers to count tips toward minimum compensation will encourage wage theft and exacerbate the gender wage gap. 64% of the public thinks that tips should never or should only temporarily count toward the minimum wage.
2. Shorten the phasein. Big businesses can afford to pay $15 sooner. The public supports a faster phasein for big business by 51% to 35%.
3. Eliminate training wages . Very few exemptions exist under state law. The city shouldn’t allow businesses to pay lower wages to disabled workers, young workers, or immigrant workers.
4. Decrease the threshold for big businesses to 250 employees . 250 is the largest threshold in the City’s sick leave law, and businesses over that size should be able to afford to lift workers out of poverty sooner.
5. Strengthen enforcement . The enforcement mechanism in the minimum wage policy does not institute strong penalties that would discourage businesses from trying to avoid or violate the law. Enforcement should include a stronger private right of action, larger damages for violations of the law, and a robust education and outreach component. If the Council intends to consider different options, we would expect it to consider proworker options supported by the public and not only employerfriendly options.