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.
The committee recognized that small businesses have little profit margin to play with and could fold if they had to implement a 60 percent increase in minimum wage too quickly. So the proposal gives small business time: five to seven years to reach $15.