With the council chambers standing room only and supporters waving signs declaring “Seattle needs a raise” and “$15 good work Seattle,” council members approved the new ordinance, which will go into effect on April 1, 2015, and be phased in over the next three to seven years depending on the size of the business.
In a controversial late addition to the original regulation, employers will be allowed to pay a lower training wage to teenagers.
“Having a first city go to $15 is a big step,” said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. “It breaks open that discussion elsewhere. I think we’re likely to see other cities follow suit…. We’re seeing a breakthrough to minimum wages at a level that weren’t considered possible just a couple of years ago.”
San Francisco is discussing raising its minimum to $15, Jacobs said, and Los Angeles is looking at $15 for hotel workers. San Diego is mulling a $13-an-hour wage and Oakland is considering $12.25. Seattle’s current minimum is the state-mandated $9.32, the highest of any state. (The federal minimum is $7.25.)
The push for a $15 minimum transformed the November elections here and brought Seattle its first socialist elected official in nearly a century, City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant. During her grass-roots campaign, Sawant pushed for the purest form of the new wage — $15 an hour, implemented immediately and granted evenly to everyone.
On Monday, she introduced several amendments to change the ordinance, seeking to force big businesses to pay the higher wage sooner and to strip out the training wage. As each amendment failed, the angry audience shouted: “Shame! Shame! Shame!”