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Sawant Declares Victory As Seattle Moves Closer To A $15/Hour Minimum Wage

Ashley Gross
Kshama Sawant and members of 15 Now cheer the vote by the city council committee to approve raising the minimum wage.

Seattle’s low-wage workers are closer to getting a raise. A city council committee unanimously voted to pass Mayor Ed Murray’s minimum wage plan, with some amendments.

Even Socialist city council member KshamaSawant, who’s criticized the measure as too watered down, said it’s a victory for workers. 

The plan phases in a $15-an-hour minimum wage over a period of three to seven years, depending on how big the business is. City council members considered a number of amendments, including one to push the initial start date to April 1st next year instead of January 1st. That measure passed.

Council member Sally Clark, who proposed the change, said the city didn’t do a good enough job letting businesses know about the mandatory sick leave law that took effect a couple of years ago and she wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

"We need to roll this out right and it may be that we need just a little bit more time to do good outreach to employees, good outreach and technical assistance to employers," Clark said. 

Sawant criticized the delayed start date and tried at other points to strengthen the mayor’s plan. She was the lone vote in favor of requiring big businesses to pay $15 an hour right off the bat.

But even though she complained about corporate loopholes, she voted along with the rest of the committee to pass the minimum wage increase. In fact, she said it’s a huge achievement for the 15 Now movement.

"The public mandate for $15 has been so strong that the establishment could no longer ignore it, and not only did they have to stop ignoring it, they had to put it at the top of the city’s political agenda," Sawant said. 

The group 15 Now has been gathering signatures  to put a more aggressive $15-an-hour minimum wage measure on the ballot in November. Sawant and 15 Now organizer Jess Spear said the group is waiting to see what happens in the full council on Monday before making a decision on whether to drop that effort. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.