Seattle Passes Huge Minimum Wage Increase

Evan Manvel

"the scale of ambition is catching the attention of economists, labor leaders and business owners."

On Monday the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a minimum wage ordinance to make the city’s minimum wage the highest in the country (for large cities).

The ordinance doesn’t mandate $15/hr now, as the catchy movement slogan calls for, but it’s an impressive boost over the current minimum wage, and is understandably making national headlines.

In rough terms, the law means in three or four years, one-third of the 100,000 Seattleites making less than $15/hr -- those working for companies of 500+ employees -- will have their wages boosted to $15/hr. In five to seven years, employees of Seattle's smaller businesses will also earn that much. In the meantime, there are steps towards those levels. It will mean about a 50% boost over the Washington’s state minimum wage, America's highest. (Helpful chart). From the Seattle Times:

Some fast-food workers, whose walkouts a year ago launched the campaign to win workers’ higher pay, cried after the vote.

Brittany Phelps, who makes $9.50 an hour at a Seattle McDonald's, brought her 5-year-old daughter to the council hearing to witness the historic vote.

“I’m really happy. This means a lot,” said Phelps, brushing tears from her eyes.

The battle’s not over, of course – lawsuits and ballot measures may be brewing, the enforcement of the law could take some work, and there are concerns about loopholes – but there’s no doubt the movement for higher minimum wages had a huge win this week. Progressives in other cities should be inspired. Indeed, organizing for $15/hr continues in Portland.

As the New York Times reported:

Eight states plus the District of Columbia have already increased their minimum wages this year... But it is the scale of ambition that is catching the attention of economists, labor leaders and business owners.

“In past rounds of minimum wage increases, proposals sought chiefly to restore the value of the minimum wage lost to inflation over the decades,” said Paul Sonn... program director at the National Employment Law Project. The increases in places like Seattle, Mr. Sonn said, go beyond playing catch-up. “The $15 proposals make real gains,” he said.

To all the workers, organizers and elected officials who made it happen, congratulations.

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