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PLU Debate Will Explore Whether Tacoma Should Hike Its Minimum Wage To $15

Patrick Rodriguez via Wikimedia Commons
A view of Tacoma, Wash. as seen from the McKinley neighborhood.

Tacoma voters have less than a month to decide whether to raise the city’s minimum wage, and if so, how much. Thursday evening, debaters at Pacific Lutheran University will give their best arguments in favor and against a $15 minimum wage.

This discussion is part of the Ruth Anderson Public Debate, an annual tradition at PLU. The speech and debate team picks a contentious issue and assigns two students to argue either side. The twist is that they’re also paired up with leaders from the community who debate alongside them.

PLU senior Angie Tinker will team up with Vince Kueter, strategic researcher with Service Employees International Union 1199NW, to argue in favor of the higher wage. Tinker says low-wage workers in Tacoma are barely scraping by.

“People right now are doing everything right. They’re working as much as they can, they’re going to school to get education, but the system is failing them,” Tinker said.

A junior named Matt Aust will be arguing against. He’ll pair up with Tom Pierson, chief executive of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce.

Fewer Jobs?

Aust says hiking the minimum wage to $15 will result in fewer jobs.

“Businesses are going to stop hiring so much low-wage labor,” Aust said. “They’re going to adapt and they’re going to find ways to use less low-wage labor.”

Justin Eckstein, a clinical assistant professor of communication at PLU who directs the student debate team, said this is a natural issue for college students to tackle.

“We’re allowing college students to be able to shape the public dialogue around policy matters that really affect them,” Eckstein said. “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 50 percent of college workers are paid the minimum wage, so it seems like Proposition 1 would be an ideal topic for them to discuss.”

To keep the argument simple, the PLU debate is only going to focus on the positives and negatives of a $15 minimum wage.

Tacoma voters will face initiatives 1 and 1B in November. On the ballot, they’ll first be asked to say whether they support a raise in the minimum wage at all. Even if they vote no, they’ll be asked to choose between the two minimum wage increases. Initiative 1 would raise the minimum wage to $15 in January for businesses above a certain size. Initiative 1B would raise the minimum wage in phases, reaching $12 dollars by the year 2018. 

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