In his first official City Hall press conference since taking the oath of office on Tuesday, Mayor Ed Murray announced that he's issuing an executive order directing city departments to increase the minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour, in keeping with the ongoing push (led most vocally by new city council member Kshama Sawant, a socialist) to raise the minimum wage to that level citywide. Murray said he'd consider making the raise—assuming the city council signs off on it—is retroactive to the beginning of 2014.
Last month, Murray appointed a business- and labor-led task force (which also includes Sawant) to come up with a proposal to raise the minimum wage in Seattle. Some members of the task force are adamant that the minimum wage needs to be at least $15 an hour; others are skeptical. They have until April to come up with a compromise."We are not going to be able to solve the issue of affordability" without addressing education and housing. "It would be a mistake to view this as a panacea."–Mayor Ed Murray
"If you look at the buying power of the minimum wage over time, it was once a way that people moved out of poverty. ... $15 an hour doesn't move people out of poverty. Not when there's a 70 percent gap in earning power between those with a high school education and those with a college degree, particularly when 28 percent of all homes are underwater," Murray, sounding like an idealistic JFK baby boomer, said. "We are not going to be able to solve the issue of affordability" without addressing education and housing, he added. "It would be a mistake to view this as a panacea."
Murray said that increasing the city minimum to $15 an hour would increase the wages of about 660 workers (in positions, according to city budget office director Ben Noble, ranging from ushers at Seattle Center to recreational attendants at Seattle parks) cost the city about $700,000 a year, but that that number wasn't yet a solid figure based on thorough analysis. City employees are paid in pay "bands" that increase in "steps," so that the same job might pay $12 an hour one year but increase to more than $15 over time.
Additionally, there's the question of what will happen to employees who are currently paid $15 an hour or around that level when all workers' wages are raised—should a low-level supervisor make the same as, or close to, someone he or she is supervising?
And—as socialist council member Kshama Sawant pointed out in a press release this afternoon in response to Murray—the new mayor's proposal doesn't include contractors or contractors who work with the city. Those contractors, as Murray acknowledged at today's press conference, include many human-services providers who contract with the city, which often pay low wages. "We don't have control over" private companies and nonprofits, Murray said.
Murray also said he's adding two (still unnamed) representatives of the nonprofit community to the coalition he announced last month that will study options for increasing the minimum wage citywide; after those two, he said, that's it—the group will be capped at 25 members. "You can't negotiate if you're constantly changing the numbers," Murray said. He said he's given the committee a hard deadline of April to come up with a minimum-wage proposal.
As we noted in Jolt earlier today, Murray said King County pays all its employees a mimimum of $15 an hour; however, King County's job listings include numerous jobs that, according to the site, start below $15 (any takers for autopsy technician trainee at $14.48 an hour?), including some as low as $10 an hour.
(Murray also had some interesting things to say about the downtown waterfront and what he referred to as his predecessor Mike McGinn's failure to keep the city's part of the various waterfront projects, including the park, tunnel, and seawall, "on time and on budget"; more on that in a separate post).