News Column

Seattle OKs $15 Minimum Wage

June 3, 2014

By John Bacon, and Michael Winter, USA TODAY

Seattle will soon have the highest minimum wage in the country at $15 an hour. (file photo)
Seattle will soon have the highest minimum wage in the country at $15 an hour. (file photo)

Martina Phelps says the Seattle City Council's historic vote Monday to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour could change her life.

Phelps, 22, earns $9.47 an hour at McDonald's. She wants to move out of her mother's house and go back to school.

"It's hard right now," she said before the vote. "I have been trying to save up for school, but I just can't do it. This would mean a lot."

The council approved the measure unanimously.

The plan, which includes a lower training wage for teens, will phase in the new wage over three to seven years, depending on the size of a business and benefits it provides employees. The council rejected amendments that would have sped up phase-ins and excluded tips from total compensation.

City officials estimate a fourth of workers are below $15 an hour. Full-time pay at that rate is about $31,000 a year.

A trade group representing corporate franchises said it would sue to overturn the plan, saying it puts Seattle owners at a disadvantage to other small businesses.

Washington already has the highest state minimum wage at $9.32 an hour, well above the federal minimum of $7.25.

Seattle's Chamber of Commerce initially balked at the wage plan. Craig Dawson, CEO of Retail Lockbox in Seattle, was among those suggesting early on that small and minority businesses would be put at risk by the increase in personnel costs.

Compromises were made at a rancorous council committee meeting last week.

"Seattle, and other cities, are taking direct action to close our nation's huge income gap because the federal and state governments have failed to do so," City Councilman Nick Licata said. "By significantly raising the minimum wage, Seattle's prosperity will be shared by more people and create a sustainable model for continued growth."

A group called 15 Now is collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would hasten the timeline for all workers to reach $15.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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Source: Copyright 2014 USA TODAY

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