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from The Great Debate:

Four lessons from Seattle’s 60 percent minimum wage hike

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Today, fast-food workers in 150 cities across America and 30 countries across the world are striking over what they say are low wages and unfair working conditions in order to achieve what Seattle is very close to implementing: a $15 per hour minimum wage.

The Seattle proposal is a giant experiment. Developed by a committee of business, labor and community representatives convened by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, the proposal could be implemented as early as October. The wage hike would be the largest of any city in the country: a $5.68 per hour increase over 2.5 years for Seattle’s largest businesses. An estimated 100,000 workers would be affected; by one estimate the proposal would put $2.9 billion into the wallets of low-wage workers over the next 10 years. Other cities have raised their minimum wage without lasting negative impacts on the economy, but no other increase was as big as this one.

As a member of the advisory committee that developed the final proposal, here are four lessons from Seattle that would help other wage-hike proponents replicate our model.

1. Small is beautiful

If Seattle is any indication, voters don’t necessarily care about the largest businesses, but we do love our small businesses. Getting small businesses on board was key to building a proposal that could make it through the city council without too much tinkering. It was also necessary to fend off a big business-backed initiative that would have attempted to introduce a “tip credit” into state law, allowing companies to pay less than minimum wage if employees receive tips.

from The Great Debate:

I’m making $21 an hour at McDonald’s. Why aren’t you?

mcdonalds -- topI work for McDonald’s and I make $21 an hour.

No, that isn’t a typo. It’s really my salary.

You see, I work for McDonald’s in Denmark, where an agreement between our union and the company guarantees that workers older than 18 are paid at least $21 an hour. Employees younger than 18 make at least $15 -- meaning teenagers working at McDonald’s in Denmark make more than two times what many adults in America earn working at the Golden Arches.

To anyone who says that fast-food jobs can’t be good jobs, I would answer that mine isn’t bad. In fact, parts of it are just fine. Under our union’s agreement with McDonald’s, for example, I receive paid sick leave that workers are still fighting for in many parts of the world. We also get overtime pay, guaranteed hours and at least two days off a week, unlike workers in most countries. At least 10 percent of the staff in any given restaurant must work at least 30 hours a week.

from The Great Debate:

It’s not just fast-food workers who are underpaid

Akil Poynter, 20, works 30 hours a week at a St. Louis area McDonald’s, earning $7.35 an hour for manning the grill. Since the Florissant Valley Community College student can't get by on that income, he took on a second job, preparing sandwiches and salads at a local Panera Bread. There he receives $7.95 an hour for another 25 hours of labor a week.

Asked the difference between his two employers, Poynter says there isn’t much of one. Panera’s nicer surroundings and higher-quality food don’t translate to better working conditions. "The environment is different but the work is the same," Poynter noted. "Workers are working their butt off every day to get their paycheck."

from The Great Debate:

Trying to raise a family on a fast-food salary

Fast-food workers in more than 50 cities Thursday are striking for fair pay and the right to form a union -- the biggest walkout to hit the industry. This latest round of labor unrest comes 50 years after hundreds of thousands of Americans, led by Martin Luther King Jr., joined the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, demanding not only civil rights, but also good jobs and economic equality.

One demand of the 1963 marchers was raising the federal minimum wage to $2 an hour. In today’s dollars, that’s roughly $15 an hour -- what the striking fast-food workers are now calling for.

from The Great Debate:

Rebuilding America’s high-wage economy

Good for President Barack Obama for emphasizing the need to restore America’s middle class. However, the actual proposals in his new summer offensive would not go very far toward that worthy goal.

America is moving, at an accelerating pace, toward an economy with tens of millions of poorly paid service jobs at one end, and a relatively small number of astronomically compensated financial jobs at the other. In between the fast food workers, who demonstrated this week for a living wage, and the hedge fund billionaires is a new creative class heavily based on the Internet. But the web entrepreneurs are too narrow a segment on which to rebuild a broad middle class.

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