Responding to Recent Questions on $15/hour



Recently there have been questions about how to implement the $15/hour minimum wage. There’s been a lot of talk from business that workers should compromise. Here are some initial thoughts, we will be talking more soon:

We are fighting for $15/hour for all low-wage workers in Seattle. I would estimate that there are close to a 100,000 workers who would directly benefit from the wage floor being lifted to 15. We want to do our best to ensure that all of those workers are covered. Among them are some of the most underrepresented and disenfranchised constituents in this city. Furthermore, studies show that lifting the wage floor has positive impact on all workers’ standards of living, and on the overall economy.

Businesses did not initiate the fight for 15, workers did. If businesses do not agree with our demand, they are free to come up with a counter-proposal. So far, we have not seen any such counter-proposal. We do not even know what their public stance is on $15/hour itself. All we have seen is assorted comments in newspaper articles and social media rants of one business person or another. They can make a counter-proposal and then we can have a discussion. It is not my job to make the counter-proposal for them. My job is to fight as hard as I can for the workers I represent.

Micro businesses and government-funded human services do have legitimate concerns. I have had conversations with the Main Street Alliance, with the GSBA, and many other small business owners. I have also talked with a number of human service providers. Their problems are chronic, an outcome of the economy and political system favoring big business, not because workers are draining money by being paid a good wage. Continuing to pay workers poverty wages is not a solution to these problems.

Small businesses struggle to make enough sales, competing for an underpaid consumer base, especially since the recession. A large proportion of households struggle with low wages and do not have spare income to spend on goods and services. This creates an economic deadlock of low demand. Poverty wages and unemployment also means the number of people who need services and assistance has been going up steadily. Funds for human services from the city, county, and state have been deteriorating for decades. In many cases, they have not even kept up with inflation, let alone with the increased need for such services. And the bulk of the government funds come from regressive taxation that penalizes low-income workers the most. Meanwhile, subsidies from the government are skewed deeply towards rich developers and mega-corporations like Amazon.

These problems cannot be solved in one city alone, because they are problems that spill over from one region into another. But we need to begin to reverse this trend somewhere, and we have an enormous opportunity to turn back the tide right now in Seattle.

I appeal to everyone – workers, small businesses, human service providers, and others – if you want to see workers get a decent wage while ensuring that small businesses and human services are protected, then let’s fight together and look at the best mechanisms to make this happen. We need to seriously look into taxing big developers, big business, and the super-wealthy to subsidize the costs of going to $15/hour if small operations cannot afford it right away.

Concessions by our side at this stage, when no actual counter-proposal is in play, will only strengthen the hand of big business. If big business wants further compromises from the workers they have exploited and underpaid for so long, they will have to make a public case for it. Workers have already compromised by living in poverty for decades, and by demanding a minimum wage of only $15/hour, which isn’t even a living wage. Workers have to fight for every small improvement in our lives under this brutal economic system.

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