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Tacoma Voters Will Face Two Minimum Wage Initiatives On The November Ballot

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Businesses such as this Tacoma McDonald's may soon have to give workers a raise, depending on what voters do in November

Tacoma is ground zero for the state's next big minimum wage battle.

The city council voted 7-1 to put an initiative on the November ballot to hike the minimum wage in phases over the next three years, reaching $12 an hour in January 2018. After that, the minimum wage would rise every year at the rate of inflation.

That measure will compete with an initiative to set a $15-an-hour minimum wage for businesses above a certain size starting next January. A group of activists and workers called 15 Now Tacoma gathered enough signatures to put that measure on the ballot. 

Mayor Marilyn Strickland proposed the $12-an-hour measure, saying she supports a higher minimum wage but says it should be done incrementally.

"15 Now did what they did, I got to respect the fact they got the signatures, and it makes sense for us to come up with something that we think makes more sense for Tacoma," Strickland said. 

Strickland said she would prefer that lawmakers raise the state minimum wage, as Democratic state legislators attempted earlier this year. She says she thinks it can be risky for a place like Tacoma to raise its minimum wage much higher than nearby communities. 

Nearby Cities

"We have a lot of smaller cities that are not that far away from Tacoma's borders, and you may have a situation where a business decides that they don't want to pay the minimum wage that we set and they can just move across the street or a few blocks away," Strickland said. 

The mayor's minimum wage plan is drawing criticism from backers of the competing measure. 

Patty Rose, secretary-treasurer of the Pierce County Central Labor Council, says the mayor’s proposal doesn’t go far enough.

“It’s not a path to $15, it’s a path to $12," Rose said. "And you only need to look at the cost of living and what gas costs and more importantly what housing costs in Tacoma. That’s a poverty wage, even $12.”

Mike Ladd is a building supervisor for a janitorial company and part of the group 15 Now Tacoma. He says the $12 minimum wage the mayor is proposing is "a slap in the face."

"We will support any increase in the minimum wage, but we feel like anything less than $15 right now is too little, too late," Ladd said. 

And he says his group is gearing up for a campaign fight. They’ve been going door to door to spread the word about the $15-an-hour wage plan. 

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