At his campaign headquarters on Capitol Hill this afternoon, mayoral candidate and state Sen. (D-43, Capitol Hill) Ed Murray announced a lengthy "Economic Opportunity Agenda," the centerpiece of which is a plan to gradually raise the minimum wage for large Seattle employers to $15 an hour, targeting "big-box businesses and fast-food chains that can afford it."(His program also includes enforcing the city's anti-wage-theft law, hiring more women at the top levels of city government, increasing job training, and creating an English-language training program.)
"I grew up in a large, Irish Catholic, working-class family and today we could not afford to live here," said Murray, who was joined at his announcement by North Seattle Burger King employee Aaron Larson, a participant in the recent run of "Strike Poverty" fastfood worker marches. "I’m not talking about raising the minimum wage tomorrow," Murray said.
"It would be phased in over a series of years"—an approach he likened to his incremental approach to passing marriage equality, which took 17 years to pass in the state legislature. If the city adopted a $15 minimum right away, Murray said, "we would end up in a labor-business war."
Asked how many years he was talking about, Murray said, "It's not going to take 17 years."
In a race where McGinn has won the support of two major activist labor unions fighting for living wages, the United Food and Commercial Workers (grocery workers) and UNITE HERE (hotel workers) have both endorsed McGinn and created politcal committees to raise money for his candidacy, Murray's vocal endorsement of a higher minimum wage is a clear message that Murray isn't the business conservative in the race.
On the campaign trail, McGinn has been supportive of a higher minimum wage, but has prioritized a state solution over a city one. Today, Murray said he would take up the fight at the city level.
It didn't hurt that Murray had a Burger King employee sitting at his side. Asked whether he's OK with Murray's incrementalist approach to raising wages—Murray himself noted that if the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would currently be much higher than $15 an hour—Larson said, "The fact that change is coming is more than enough good news for me"; he also said he hopes to get out of the fast-food industry and go back to school.
The announcement was also a chance for Murray to, yet again, criticize the mayor for being arbitrary and divisive on issues like Whole Foods. (McGinn asked the city council to deny the grocery giant a street vacation on the grounds that the company doesn't pay a living wage)—and mock McGinn's budget, which he proposed yesterday, for including lots of things Murray said he proposed long before McGinn decided they were a good idea, like a new domestic violence resource center. (McGinn's office says the DV center has been in the works for months.)
"When the Whole Foods issue came up, I said we need to actually ... establish a strategy to get there. It’s not just one-offing something four days before an election," Murray said. (McGinn proposed killing the Whole Foods street vacation in mid-July, which was, admittedly, shortly, but not four days, before the August 6 election.)
Murray also said he liked the mayor's budget proposal, but accused him of stealing elements of it from Murray's own plans. "I'm glad the mayor is reading my web site. ... I think it's great that he listened to me on domestic violence, on public safety, and on the need for more police officers."
McGinn spokesman John Wyble says Murray's proposal lacks specificity, and adds, "the mayor would be happy to do what Ed’s doing, which is convene a panel to discuss how we would do it."
For the last three years, McGinn has had to cut the city budget because of ongoing revenue shortfalls; this is the first year of his administration in which he's been able to add extra funding.