A New Kind of Seattle Process. In a Good Way.

Mayor Murray makes good on campaign pledge to come up with $15 minimum wage agreement, and more important, to collaborate.

By Josh Feit May 1, 2014

Mayor Murray and Nick Licata

Mayor Ed Murray needed a political win—and man, did he get one today. 

The biggest agenda item of Murray's administration, which he first announced at press conference last December before he was even sworn in—was addressing income inequality. And more specifically, raising the minimum wage to $15, a magical number that fast food workers put into play last spring

After four months of task force meetings and negotiations, Murray announced a $15 minimum wage proposal today that a supermajority (21 out of 24 members) of Murray's Income Inequality Advisory Committee signed off on, including representatives from Nucor Steel, Ivar's, SEIU 775, the Capitol Hill Chamber, and UFCW Local 21. The proposal also won support from progressive veteran City Council member Nick Licata, immigrant rights group OneAmerica founder Pramila Jayapal, low-income advocate Solid Ground's Gordon McHenry, and TEDTalk liberal entrepreneur Nick Hanauer. 

The broad sign off is likely to short-circuit an initiative battle, which highlights the other big win  today: A victory over "Seattle Process"—or at least the old process where the city goes in circles with endless debates and battles and initiatives.

The broad sign off is likely to short-circuit an initiative battle, which highlights the other big win today: A victory over "Seattle Process"—or at least the old process where the city goes in circles with endless debates and battles and initiatives.

In this instance, the Mayor had a process—one with a deadline (which, as SEIU head David Rolf noted, the group hit "with one hour to spare")—honored it, and came up with a plan. Murray has brought fast-tracked Olympia deal-making to city hall.

Liberal council member Licata said today: "I will work with my colleagues to pass this proposal with the minimum amount of tinkering possible. The council has to embrace this spirit of cooperation. We cannot tear it apart. That's the path toward success. And that's the path that I want to be on."

And mainstream-y council member Bruce Harrell, another 'Yes' vote today, added in a statement: "I would like to thank the mayor and the advisory members for all of their hard work in listening to the concerns of employees and employers in reaching an agreement." 

Erica has the details of the proposal itself, but here's the short version: The proposal gets big businesses (where more than half of the city's low-wage workers work) like Starbucks and McDonalds to $15 in three years (or four years for employees who use company-provided health care). And it makes small companies (500 employees or less) get to $15 "total compensation" in five years, and to a minimum wage of $15 not counting other compensation (tips or health care) in seven years. After 11 years, every business will have to pay the same base wage: $18.13 an hour. From then on, that wage will increase annually based on the inflation rate. In the seven year scenario, however, the base wage increases to $12 five years out, $13.50 six years out, and the gold standard of $15 in the seventh year, incrementally decreasing the amount employers can subtract from the base wage in the form of tips and health care. 

On the very same week when the partisan U.S. senate failed to pass a $10.10 minimum wage, Murray coaxed labor and business to go to $15.

Those details are certainly important. And they were enough to get a 'no' vote from IIAC member—and 15Now poster child—council member Kshama Sawant, plus an abstention from Seattle chamber of commerce leader Maud Daudon, two significant and richly symbolic figures on the mayor's task force representing the far left and far right (for Seattle) respectively.

Of course, there are reasons for both Sawant and Daudon to oppose the proposal. Sawant has the most to dislike: The seven-year phase-in will leave many workers making less than $15 an hour in the short term, and the agreement includes many concessions to business (like the temporary tip and health-care credits) that the 15Now crowd opposes. Daudon's group, meanwhile, may have been dissatisfied with the fact that the proposal is tougher on large businesses.

But the symbolism of  the polar ends demurring at today's proposal actually works for Murray, who pledged when he ran for mayor that he would bring his Olympia chops as a consensus builder and deal-maker to city hall.

The symbolism—sort of like passing domestic partnership legislation in 2008 that left Tea Partiers and gay marriage advocates alike unsatisfied—finds Murray with a ideologues kvetching on the edges, while he's got an impressive coalition of interests applauding him. And that coalition includes bona fide left wingers. 

Check out today's statement from the labor-backed group Working Washington, which organized the recent fast food workers' strikes. 

Representatives of working people, businesses, nonprofits, and other diverse community leaders have come together on a recommendation that reaches a true $15 minimum wage for all workers, helps independent businesses & nonprofits thrive, and includes robust community-based enforcement.

It's an incredible accomplishment.

And they included this statement from McDonald's worker Julia DePape: "What matters most to me is my 4 year old daughter, Canaela. My dream is to give her the same opportunities as other children. For starters, I want to provide a stable home for her and I want to give her a space to call her own. Also, Canaela loves cats and dogs and probably any other animal she'd meet. I dream of taking her to the zoo for the first time because I can only imagine how her face would light up. With $15, I have a chance at that!"

And from small business owner Jody Hall at Cupcake Royale: 

Mayor Murray has put forward a smart, responsible plan to raise the minimum wage, boost our local economy, and support small business success at the same time. The mayor listened to small businesses who sought common ground because we know our economy is built from the bottom up, not the top down. 

And, yes, Murray also got support from big business. Seattle Hospitality Group's Howard Wright (the co-chair of the committee) said today:

Most of the employer community will be happy with this. We didn't get everything that we wanted, but neither did anyone else at the table. But I think that everyone is very pleased with this outcome. I'm delighted to be a member of the community of Seattle. That we an lead with this. This will help close the income inequality gap in the middle class and perhaps will tear less at the fabric of what makes this such a great country and city. 

On the very same week when the partisan U.S. senate failed to pass a $10.10 minimum wage, Murray coaxed labor and business to go to $15. 

In recent feature for the magazine about the new administration, I wrote that "it’s a dramatic time for all cities, as metro regions across the country—offset by paralyzed and removed federal and state governments—chart the course for the twenty-first century. Cities are now laboratories of a go-it-alone urbanism that weds traditional city functions—collecting garbage, fixing potholes, and keeping the lights on—with larger, traditionally federal issues such as economic equity, education, health care, transportation, and even climate change."

Murray made good on this urban mission today, and said at today's press conference: "Cities have often been incubators of democracy, and Seattle will once again prove itself to be an incubator of democracy, by showing how we as a city can lead the conversation in the nation to address this growing problem in our society of income inequality." 

And here's something else we wrote in the magazine, in the runup to last year's mayoral election

Murray’s superpower for collaborating—yep, he got Republicans to vote for his gas tax, gay marriage, and liberal budget line items such as the Disability Lifeline—is tailor-made for the times. ... Murray’s knack for collaboration seems like the perfect skill for bringing the region together to begin laying the groundwork to help the Puget Sound region emerge as a megalopolis for industry, trade, and invention. Rather than spending another four years quibbling, a Murray administration may actually get it done. 

There was a kooky contention—also in the runup to the election—that Murray (despite his 90 percent lifetime labor voting record) wasn't a real progressive.

However, today, progressive leaders like United Food and Commercial Worker Local 21 political director Sarah Cherin, had this to say: "We're all better off when we're all better off, and this agreement pushes up the hourly wages of all lower paid workers over time to $15 and then beyond. This is groundbreaking."


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