Voices of the People’s Budget: Jess Spear of 15 Now

This is the fifth part in our series, “Voices of the People’s Budget.” On the evening of October 30th, labor leaders, community organizers, social service providers, and engaged citizens came together for a People’s Budget Town Hall. Here they shared their concerns about the Mayor’s business as usual budget and began a conversation about what is necessary to make Seattle affordable for all.

Jess Spear, 15 Now

Transcript of Speech as Delivered

I really agree with what he [John Fox] just said. My name is Jess Spear. I’m here representing 15 Now.

You know we won a $15/hour minimum wage this year. It feels like forever ago. But we won that this year by building a broad-based movement, building the support in our communities, the labor movement, social justice organizations, many of you in this Hall tonight were a part of that 15 Now movement. But we have some unfinished business that many of the other speakers talked about: Where is the money in Mayor Murray’s budget to accommodate the new minimum wage law?

Where is the money to enforce the new minimum wage law? We did not build a strong enough movement to prevent all of those corporate loopholes, and now we have four different confusing pathways for workers. Where is the money to ensure workers understand what pathway they’re on? Where is the money to enforce that the employers are actually going to pay the workers their due?

It’s clear that his budget, Mayor Murray’s budget, is failing to deliver on this. Where is the money that the human service providers told us during the fight for a $15/hour minimum wage was necessary, that they needed, so they could raise their worker’s wages, but not have to cut the desperately needed services.

I mean, Mayor Murray promised, on January 3rd, his first executive order was to raise the wages of City workers to $15/hour. And we asked him recently, at Ask the Mayor, the Seattle Channel hosted, what about this, why have you not fulfilled this promise, and he said basically they’re going to go along the same long pathway that other workers are going to get.

And that’s just ridiculous. The money is there to fulfill this promise. I mean, Kshama mentioned it: cap the salaries of City executives at 150,000 dollars; that’s not a huge sacrifice to bring everybody else up. I mean, he raised the salaries of his staff. He raised the salaries of the Police Chief. He talks about the need to recruit talent and keep it, but what about the workers that are doing all of that work that are making less than $15? Don’t we need to make sure they’re not living in poverty? Are they not doing an excellent job?

Kshama mentioned proposing to cut the salaries of the Councilmembers and the Mayor by $50,000, and that would generate $500,000 dollars necessary for the emergency services needed to address this city’s homeless crisis.

Kshama is the only City Councilmember that has done this willingly. We should be asking the other City Councilmembers what are they waiting for? Obviously, Kshama can do her job with a lot less money. And it also has the added benefit that maybe they get a sense of what it’s like to see those increases in our rents, to see what it’s like to have to budget to put food on the table or pay bills rather than have this exorbitant salary.

You know, 15 Now supports what other people have said tonight about the $15/hour minimum wage law. We need to fully fund enforcement of it. To make sure that we crack down on the wage theft that we know already exists. A report came out showing that the sick leave law—there was no fines, nobody got in trouble for not paying their worker’s for sick leave.

We need to implement the Mayor’s promise to raise City government employees to a $15/hour minimum wage, but I think we all know in this room, that really to change things dramatically, to really address the problems that we’re facing, we need to tax the superwealthy and the big corporations in this state. We need to get at the money that’s there. We need it not only in the state, but nationwide. We need more money for our communities, from Washington, D.C. and Olympia, to reverse all of the cuts that they forced on us from the global economic recession.

You know, the existing laws that are there, this Council and the Mayor with their budget are not innocent bystanders with no tools to deal with the problem. And it shows: what we’ve talked about tonight, what Kshama has put forward, shows that we need a City Council that leads the fight for the needs of working people. We need more Kshama Sawants on the City Council.

But in the meantime, in the meantime, we need to be demanding from the City Council and the Mayor that they use the available tools. There are no excuses. They can tax the wealthy. They’ve already been mentioned by everybody, I won’t go over them again. But to avoid doing that really exposes that they find it acceptable that workers aren’t paid $15. They find it acceptable that there are homeless people.

We need to continue the organizing. We need to continue building our movements. We need to challenge the political establishment in the city, in the state, and nationwide. I think everybody knows that the fight for 15 showed that we can do that: when we organize, we can change things together. It’s spreading all across the country. I know many of you are following that. We can build the type of politics that serves ordinary working people, not corporations, and together we can organize and build a People’s Budget. Thank you.

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