At a press briefing this afternoon—the official press release read, "Mayor Murray to announce his proposal for raising the minimum wage in Seattle"—Mayor Ed Murray did not announce his proposal for raising the minimum wage in Seattle.
Instead, Murray announced that his 25-member income inequality advisory committee has not yet reached an agreement—"we're close"—but said he wants a "supermajority" of 17 or 18 committee members to help avoid a "multi-ballot fight" for a higher minimum wage with people peeling off from a less solid consensus. That fight, he said, would drag the city into a "poisonous" "class war" while unions should be spending money on important campaigns satewide and businesses should be spending money creating jobs.
Having supermajority support would presumably build support at the council—the committee is tasked with sending a proposal for the council to take up and pass—and undermine a ballot initiative, particularly one from the left if unions like SEIU 775's David Rolf, the committee co-chair, supports a deal.
And actually, the supermajority point was initially revealed at the press conference—a bit tortured until that point—by Rolf, who chimed in, about 20 minutes in, to say that the real sticking point was that the committee wanted more than a "simple majority" to vote for the proposal. Asked what a "supermajority" would look like, Murray hemmed and hawed before finally settling on 60 percent.
Although Murray said "a majority of the committee has agreed to a proposal," he added, "I don’t yet believe that we have a good cross section of business and labor and nonprofits." Rolf said the latest proposal is favored by a majority of two.
Saying the committee, which has been meeting since December, has reached an "agreement in principle" on a deal, Murray offered few details on what such a deal would look like. He did say it would include: Some kind of phase-in for small businesses (potentially defined in two tiers—smaller than 500 and smaller than 50); an increase from $15, based on CPI, once the phase-in period is over; "no exemptions"; and a "commitment to creating a strong enforcement and worker rights education function" at the city.
Additionally, small businesses would be able to count some benefits toward the minimum wage during the phase-in period.
However, Murray didn't reveal how long the phase-in would be; what benefits might be counted toward total compensation; what his enforcement strategy would look like; or exactly what businesses would be considered "small" enough to qualify for the initial exemption from the $15 minimum.
Murray, who was flanked by committee co-chairs Rolf and Howard Wright (head of Seattle Hospitality Group, a hotel holding company), said the other committee members weren't there because "I have them locked in conference rooms" inside the halls of the mayor's office, where they were still negotiating the details of the deal.
"We live in a capitalist system. It is class warfare."—Kshama Sawant
"No one has walked away from the table, much to my surprise," Murray said. "People have walked out of the room, but they've walked back."
One committee member who did appear to have walked away from the table was socialist city council member Kshama Sawant, who was not in Murray's back-room meetings this afternoon. Instead, she was holding a press conference saying the "committee has failed," and that now it's "time to build a grassroots campaign" for a $15 minimum wage with no exemptions, no total compensation, and only a three-year phase-in period for small businesses and nonprofits.
"Our goal now is to stop focusing on the committee. The committee is done. It is over," Sawant said. In response to Murray's fear of a class war, she said: "We live in a capitalist system. It is class warfare."
At the same time, however, she said she'd be willing to "participate in all discussions" if she was invited