The dramatic progress of the movement to make the minimum wage a living wage was highlighted on May Day when Seattle Mayor Ed Murray unveiled a plan to double the base pay for workers over the coming decade.
A year ago, President Obama and others saw raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour as the great leap forward.
This week, the newly elected mayor of one of America’s largest and most prosperous cities proposed a plan that would, in a series of steps over the coming decade, take the base wage as high as $18 an hour. Something big is happening; the activist coalition Working Washington hailed the announcement of the mayor’s plan as “an incredible accomplishment.” Recalling “strikes, marches, boycotts and other mobilizations” by fast-food workers in Seattle that raised the call for a $15-an-hour basic wage, the labor-backed group noted that, “Less than a year later, we are on the verge of achieving a $15 minimum wage that ensures every worker in Seattle can support themselves, afford the basics, and contribute to the economy.”
Even as they celebrate the progress that has been made, however, Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant and others say they hope to improve upon the mayor’s plan. The councilmember says she’ll be working in coming weeks for changes that would speed up the implementation of wage increases, eliminate loopholes for big businesses and protect the interests of workers who rely on tips. “Our work is far from done,” says Sawant, who has helped to organize a grassroots 15 Now movement for a rapid increase in wages. “This is a historic moment to recognize the power of grassroots organizing,” she said after the mayor’s plan was announced. “It is a call to action.”
Seattle and the state of Washington have histories of recognizing the need to raise wages so that working people will not face the reality of putting in a forty-hour week while remaining stuck in poverty. The current minimum wage for Washington workers is $9.32 an hour, the highest state rate in the nation. But the basic premises of the debate were jolted last fall by the election to the city council of Sawant, an Occupy activist and Socialist Alternative candidate who made advocacy for a $15 wage central to her bid. At the same time, voters in the nearby city of Sea-Tac backed a $15-an-hour proposal.