An energetic rally of about 150 people arrived in the plaza outside Seattle City Hall late yesterday afternoon to demand a $15 minimum wage after an all-day march from SeaTac; voters in SeaTac approved a $15 minimum wage for airport contract workers in November, and on Thursday afternoon, the Service Employees International Union 775, which had helped power the campaign in SeaTac, was pivoting off the momentum and bringing their cause to Seattle.
With hip-hop style chants ("Beat. Back. The Boss. Attack"), pumped-up SEIU organizers and fired-up fast food workers rallied supporters with glowing "$15" signs outside City Hall.
After a trio of upbeat fast food workers and lefty City Council member Mike O'Brien spoke, Kshama Sawant, the socialist who will be sworn in as a new Seattle City Council member in January (she beat longtime Council member Richard Conlin with her $15-an-hour platform), took the podium and gave the keynote speech. ("I know who you're here to see," O'Brien said during his speech after getting heckled for stopping short of calling for $15 and instead saying, somewhat anticlimactically to the eager crowd, "Are you guys ready to have a conversation in the city about what a fair wage is?" and concluding: "and Kshama will speak for herself.")
Referring to her own victory—"Seattle elected a socialist," she said—and last month's minimum wage win in SeaTac, Sawant captured the urgent energy of the crowd: "$10 is not enough," she said, noting President Obama's recent speech supporting a Democratic proposal to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 as both a sign of optimism that public opinion was shifting, but also a cautionary note about watered down solutions. "We can't wait for a few years because the rent is due now," she said to big cheers. "We can't wait a few years for our wages to increase. We want $15 now...This is the moment for working people...It's going to be hard but we can do this and we can do this together. But we need power both inside and outside city hall."
Asked afterward why he veered from the day's script and didn't ID $15 as the gold standard, economist and former lawfirm CFO O'Brien, saying he wasn't sure what the right wage would be and even noting a recent study showing that a living wage in Washington state would be more like $16, told Fizz: "I am waiting to figure all that out."
He also made a nod to Mayor-elect Ed Murray (who also campaigned on instigating an incremental strategy toward a $15 minimum wage). "Murray talked about it a lot, and I want to respect the process."
And Sawant, asked if she's gotten any commitment from her new council colleagues on the magical $15 number, told Fizz: "It's too early to tell but we're having conversations and we'll see how it goes. Any good organizer will tell you you don't give away your strategy in public...All credit [for the $15 push] goes to the movement in Seattle," she said.
Asked if she'd marched all the way from SeaTac, Sawant said she'd joined the march at Brighton (a Southeast Seattle neighborhood in Rainier Valley), marching 8-and-a-half miles. Was she cold? "It's colder standing around than when you're marching," she said.
In addition to O'Brien, Council members Sally Bagshaw, Sally Clark, and briefly, Jean Godden, were also on hand at the rally—though only O'Brien was asked to speak. "I wasn't invited," Clark joked as she offered Fizz coffee or hot chocolate from behind a table she was staffing on behalf of the council.
Murray was out of town and a press release that arrived late yesterday afternoon from his office was not about the rally, but about Nelson Mandela. "We should have more to say soon," his spokesman Jeff Reading said when asked about the minimum wage, while referring us to the statement he gave PubliCola last week.
SEIU 775 endorsed Murray during the mayor's race after he embraced the minimum wage campaign, and he got a shoutout yesterday afernoon from the SEIU organizer who emceed the event.
And in non-Sawant news:
2. Joby Shimomura, the chief of staff for Gov. Jay Inslee, has endorsed Dana Laurent for state Democratic Party chair, Fizz has learned.
It's unclear whether Inslee himself will endorse Laurent, but it's unlikely Shimomura would be able to make such a high-profile endorsement, he supporters say, without her boss's permission; we have a call out to Shimomura about her endorsement of Laurent.