As congratulations poured in from business, labor, and nonprofits about yesterday's historic minimum wage vote (Seattle's phased-in $15 minimum will be the highest in the nation), one group stood out as a prominent outlier: The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, which issued a statement expressing disappointment with the final agreement, which includes numerous concessions to business like the tip credit, a provision authorizing subminimum "training" wages, and a lengthy phase-in period.
Nonetheless, the Chamber said in a statement, "we believe that the legislation passed today by the Seattle City Council does not fully reflect the final compromise proposal."
Maud Daudon, the Chamber's representative on Mayor Ed Murray's Income Inequality Advisory Committee, abstained from the final vote approving the deal.
In a conversation in his office yesterday evening, Murray said he was "probably most frustrated with business toward the end" of the bargaining process, but that "smart business people wanted to make it happen" and ultimately did.
We also talked about nonprofits (who have said they need more money from the city and feds to pay higher wages), the role socialist council member Kshama Sawant played in the discussions, and what happened when the negotiations got heated.
PubliCola: Was there a particular point when you were worried that the deal would fall apart because the two sides simply couldn't agree?
Ed Murray: There were times that I was concerned towards the end that it would fall apart, because it seemed that we would reach agreements in principle [and then] stakeholders would go back to their interest group or their constituency, whatever you want to call it, and then come back and move away from the agreement. And that really concerned me—that if that kept up, the thing might fall apart. On the other hand, I never believed it would really fall apart. I believe labor wanted to do it, and I believe smart business people wanted to make it happen.
PubliCola: I heard that business in particular kept backing out on things they had previously agreed to.
Ed Murray: I would say that at different stages each group was a challenge all on their own. Nonprofits were at different times, business was, and labor was. I was probably most frustrated with labor in the beginning and most frustrated with business towards the end. That’s about as good as you’re going to get from me.
PubliCola: Did you lose your cool at any point? You had a bit of a reputation in Olympia..."I was probably most frustrated with labor in the beginning and most frustrated with business towards the end. That’s about as good as you’re going to get from me."
Ed Murray: I think that’s an interesting narrative that’s gone on for some years. You don’t pass the largest transportation package in history, the gay marriage bill, or the highest minimum wage in the nation by yelling and screaming at people. You do do it by having some pretty hard conversations that at times are uncomfortable. You also do it sometimes by trying to be charming.
PubliCola: How much of a role did you play in getting council member Sawant on board?
Ed Murray: We kept in conversation with her and my staff, in particular my [Office of] Policy and Innovation staff, kept in conversation with her about what her needs were. But I was always very cautious about not trying to strongarm council members. Having been a legislator, it usually doesn’t work. I think Sawant was at times more part of the larger progressive coalition and at times separated herself from that.
PubliCola: Sawant seemed alienated, at times, from the process—after you announced that the committee hadn't reached a deal by the original deadline, she said the committee was "over" and that she hadn't been invited to any future meetings. Was she left out of the process?
Ed Murray: We had a different concept of how you reach things. You bring people in, you get advice but in the end—I could use the example of marriage and gay issues. So we would listen to the gay community, we would bring people in and try and work things out. But in the end, [Rep.] Jamie [Pedersen, D-43] and I would go and write a bill.
PubliCola: So you don’t regret making it a closed-door process?
"Someone had to make decisions and it was clear that a group of 25-plus people with everyone watching them wasn’t going to make a decision. So narrowing the group, making sure they stayed in touch with the larger group, was really important."
Ed Murray: When we did budget negotiations in Olympia to get a transportation deal, when we had the very, very difficult—still the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through—discussion among gay and lesbian leaders and elected officials on what’s the best approach to marriage, we didn’t do those in public. I don’t think we would have ever gotten to marriage if we did it in public. At some point, you elect people and interest groups and labor or business needs to send people who actually have the ability to negotiate and reach an agreement.
PubliCola: The final agreement gives employers the ability to apply to pay a subminimum training wage for teenagers and certain other classes of workers. How likely do you think it is that the training wage will be used?
Ed Murray: My experience is there’s limited uses for it and that the state’s pretty clear that there are some nonprofits, progressive nonprofits, including in the city, that have used it. I don’t see us doing anything that would violate good labor practices. If there’s a training wage that’s actually going to result in something that is going to get somebody a job that’s a career, that’s very different than a franchise fast food organization asking for a lower wage for somebody who probably won’t be there that long.
PubliCola: Nonprofits have said they need more funding from the city and the federal government if they're going to raise wages to $15 an hour. Are you working to make that happen?"The seven-year phase in is probably longer than I would have liked."
Ed Murray: The nonprofits were the least clear in the negotiations and the least clear in the meetings that we held around the city. There was clearly the message, we are for the $15 minimum wage—but we don’t even know how much the Affordable Care Act is going to cost us, and we’re worried about our business model. They kind of put themselves on the rocks by saying, we’re totally for the $15 minimum wage. So they brought up a list of issues that are real for nonprofits but at the same time, they didn’t try to bargain for those. And we suggested scenarios where there could be a carve-out for nonprofits, a different phase-in period…
PubliCola: But if you’re a progressive nonprofit, saying you don’t want to pay a $15 minimum wage doesn't look good.
Ed Murray: I can’t be responsible for how they feel like they look. I don’t think they ever established clarity amongst themselves and I think that was a bit of a challenge.
PubliCola: What would you change about the agreement if you could?
Ed Murray: I’m for the agreement. I’ll be very clear on this. The agreement’s done. The seven-year phase in is probably longer than I would have liked. You’re really there at $15 in seven years. That’s the end of somebody else’s first term or my second term, and I would have preferred a more aggressive timeline, but that is one of the compromises we made with business.
PubliCola: Given that the enforcement provisions are one element that still has to be hammered out, are you confident that this will be enforceable?
Ed Murray: That’s a separate discussion that’s going on that we started right after we took office, based on some funding that the council gave us to develop an Office of Labor Standards. It was one of my platforms during the campaign. We put together a group of business, labor, and other people who know about employment labor laws to start making recommendations about what’s the best model for that labor standards office to operate.
Part of it, of course, is enforcement, but part of it is technical assistance to our smallest businesses who don’t always know if they’re doing something wrong or not, so it’s going to be a combination of the two.