City Hall

Fast Food Workers Build Momentum for $15 Minimum Wage

Fast food workers and union push wage cause.

By Shirley Qiu and Josh Feit December 6, 2013

December 5 minimum wage march.

We focused on left-wing celebrity Kshama Sawant in our coverage this morning of yesterday's  $15 minimum wage march from SeaTac to Seattle City Hall (where Sawant spoke). But Sawant would be the first to say—given that she talks in "We(s)" and "Our movement" soundbites—that the $15 minimum wage campaign is a much bigger deal than her 15 minutes of fame. 

Here's our report from yesterday's march with the workers and the co-organizers from the Service Employees International Union Healthcare 775 Northwest, who steered us away from political leaders and to the marching workers.


At yesterday’s march, about 50-100 workers braved the cold with signs and matching red stocking caps for a spirited day-long march from SeaTac—which passed an initiative last moth to raise the minimum wage for airport workers to $15 an hour—to Seattle City Hall, hoping for the same pay raise in Seattle.
With mayor-elect Ed Murray and several City Council members openly supporting the movement, there is clear momentum for a higher minimum wage in Seattle. Murray's support is more cautious than the emphatic "$15 Now!" demand of yesterday's marchers, though. He's called for an incremental push to $15 and wants buy-in from businesses, setting up what's sure to be a round of, ugh, Seattle process involving an (admittedly tricky) public policy question: What's the right wage?

Here are some even-keeled discussions of the issue, noting the likelihood of price increases for consumers, citing historical wages (we've fallen far behind), and research on the minimal impact on hiring.

Ultimately, though, it may be an irrelevant discussion when it comes to public sentiment. 

SEIU 775 (the home health care workers' union), which strongly backed this year's SeaTac campaign, endorsed Murray in the mayor's race after he embraced the $15 rally cry, and made a point of giving him a shout-out at yesterday's finale rally at City Hall. The crowd's response to Murray's name was relatively muted, though, as, standing by a huge Sawant banner, the crowd waited instead for City Council-member-elect Sawant to speak. ("She's the coolest City Council member in the country" one older marcher told PubliCola as the rally broke up.)

With Murray clearly paying attention to the movement and supportive council members on hand serving hot cocoa and coffee, hopes are high that the minimum wage will be raised in 2014: Ethan Dittrich-Reed, who works in the fast food industry, has been involved with the movement since the initial walkouts in May. He says Seattle has “practically a referendum” for a $15 minimum wage.

Of course, if Murray's process falters or scales back the $15 demand, it seems likely Sawant will run a voter initiative. We have a message in to her spokesman Ramy Khalil.

Given their noisy rally yesterday, we had the same question for SEIU 775 about Murray's roundtable approach.

SEIU 775 leader David Rolf tells us:

We support mayor-elect Murray’s proposal to bring  stakeholders to the table and negotiate how to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in Seattle. We anticipate being active participants in that discussion ... We have confidence that the process ... will result in a strong stakeholder recommendation and a Council vote on the $15 wage during the first half of 2014.

In the unfortunate and unlikely event that other parties to these discussions do not act in good faith, or seek to delay a recommendation through endless study or process, or seek to undermine the core of the Mayor-elect’s proposal, a citizen initiative is likely to qualify for the November 2014  ballot, with or without SEIU’s participation.

We have frequently supported local initiatives when the legislative process has broken down or when politicians and CEO’s have been unresponsive or unaccountable to the interests of workers and their families. SeaTac’s Proposition 1 and Seattle’s I-91 [against staduim subsidies] are two examples.

But it is premature for us to speculate on what role we might play in a 2014 citizen initiative on minimum wages.

“If you make enough noise, then somebody’s gonna have to listen.”—Burger King worker Dallas Brazier

Zachary Heims, a low-wage worker who has also been with the movement from the start, has seen its evolution over the past half year. “We’ve had a lot of good progressions, a lot of good results…[from] Kshama Sawant getting voted in, all the way down to just single workers and single managers giving people raises and treating their employees better,” he said.

By mid-afternoon, marchers reached the Wendy's on Rainier Ave S and filed into the restaurant waving signs for a $15 wage.

Once the marchers had huddled inside, one participant encouraged the Wendy's workers to join the fight: "Every dollar a low-wage worker gets is good for the economy," she announced, denouncing trickle-down economics that prioritizes profits for CEOs: "It doesn't go to Wendy's headquarters to buy luxury yachts, it gets spent at local businesses, it creates jobs, it builds our economies here and our communities."

After the speech and chants of "What do we want? 15! When do we want it? Now!" in both English and Spanish, which elicited a round of applause from the Wendy's employees, the marchers continued on to City Hall.

“Like a domino effect, if one falls, the rest will follow,” said Dallas Brazier, a Burger King employee who marched for the entire day. “If you make enough noise, then somebody’s gonna have to listen.”

Workers cheer on their comrades as march stops at Wendy's yesterday.

U District McDonald's worker Joanna Aguirre addresses the crowd yesterday at City Hall.

Council member-elect Kshama Sawant and council members Mike O'Brien and Sally Bagshaw stand in the wings as a fast food worker takes the mike.

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