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A protester holds up a placard during a gathering outside a Wendy A protester holds up a placard during a gathering outside a Wendy's fast food restaurant in support of a nation-wide strike and protest to raise the hourly minimum wage of fast food workers to $15 in San Diego, California December 5, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake  

Labor activists file initiative to raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15

Seattle residents may ultimately determine whether to hike the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

On Monday, labor activists seeking a $15 an hour minimum wage filed paperwork for a Seattle city charter amendment, a move intended to increase pressure on Mayor Ed Murray and the city council to pass the nation’s most aggressive wage increase without exemptions or delays.

Under this measure, the $15 minimum hourly standard would be phased in over a three year period beginning on January 1, 2015.

The initiative is backed by the group “15 Now” and the Socialist Alternative Party. They must collect more than 30,000 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

However, this move is only a backup plan if Mayor Murray does not agree to meet the labor activists’ demands.

“We will continue to work with the mayor’s [income inequality] committee and City Council to get all workers to $15 [an hour] quickly,” said Jess Spear, a 15 Now organizer. She added that the group hopes it will not be necessary to put the amendment on the ballot, “but we have to be realistic.”

Efforts to bump Seattle’s minimum hourly pay from $9.35 to $15 an hour gained momentum after the election of self-proclaimed Socialist Kshama Sewant to the city council.

Implementing a $15 minimum was the basis of her campaign and has remained a major focus of her agenda since she was elected.

Sewant and her supporters claim that mandating a $15 an hour minimum would raise more than 100,000 workers in Seattle — a quarter of the workers in the city — out of poverty.

Owners of businesses and nonprofits think differently.

According to a survey of Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce members, 60 percent of Seattle companies will consider reducing or eliminating new jobs, cutting benefits and raising prices if the proposed wage hike is realized.

There is also research indicating that not only would the wage hike not lift individuals out of poverty, it would adversely impact the neediest members of the Seattle community.

A study that polled nonprofits within the city boundaries found that an aggressive wage increase would severely impact the organizations’ ability to serve the less fortunate.

Researchers concluded that shelter beds for the homeless, meal service for the formerly homeless and housing for the disabled could in some cases be eliminated. Head Start availability would be decreased, eliminating at least one classroom serving 20 children. Food banks would also be closed one or more days per week, with some possibly closing entirely.

For now, labor activists and concerned Seattle residents must wait to hear from the Mayor Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee, before any further moves are made.

The committee, which is made up of representatives of labor and business, will announce recommendations within the next several months, and the city council is expected to vote on some form of minimum wage legislation near the beginning of the summer.

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