“People Make Up Our City”: Why Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage Is a Sign of Things to Come

by Amy B. Dean

Activists at an April demonstration demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage in Seattle  (15 Now Seattle)

Activists at an April demonstration demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage in Seattle (15 Now Seattle)

For 100,000 working people in Seattle, a newly passed citywide minimum wage of $15 per hour will mean an increased standard of living – and recognition of their contributions to the local economy. “It’s going to help me and a lot of other people,” said Crystal Thompson, 33, a Dominos Pizza customer service representative who currently earns the city minimum wage of $9.32 per hour. “They [the corporations] have been making money off us. I’ve had the same job for five years and [am] still making minimum wage. I open and close the store. I pretty much run the store and do manager shifts and still get paid minimum wage.”

The basic argument behind these campaigns is that a person working full-time shouldn’t have to live in poverty, a precept that has been popularly accepted.

While Seattle is often associated with technology-driven firms such as Microsoft and Amazon, service workers like Thompson provide a critical backbone for the area economy – a trend that also holds nationally. Over the past 20 years, community and labor organizations have united in a living wage movement to raise the floor for these employees and to make sure that prosperity is widely shared throughout the economy. Even as efforts to increase the minimum wage nationally have encountered resistance in Congress, this movement has made great strides at the local and regional levels.

The Seattle victory – part of the national Fight for 15 drive – represents the latest landmark achievement for living wage advocates. The efforts to secure the win over past months, as well as ongoing efforts to protect it from state-level attacks, hold important lessons for the rest of the country.
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Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage Agreement: Collective Bargaining Reborn?

If Seattle’s agreement sticks, SEIU’s David Rolf and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray can claim credit for devising a form of collective bargaining that benefits workers with no ties whatever to unions.

by Harold Meyerson

Activists at an April demonstration demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage in Seattle  (15 Now Seattle)

Activists at an April demonstration demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage in Seattle (15 Now Seattle)

We have seen the future of collective bargaining, and it just may work. It should work brilliantly in Seattle if the city council doesn’t screw it up.

Last Thursday—May Day, for the nostalgic among you—Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced that a business-labor task force he appointed had agreed on a plan to raise the minimum wage in the city to $15 per hour, over four years (with annual incremental increases) for businesses with more than 500 employees, and up to seven years for smaller businesses. By the end of the process, tipped employees would have an assured hourly income of $15, not counting whatever tips they received on top of that, and the wage would thereafter be indexed to the rise with the cost of living.

Business, labor and the mayor having agreed, the plan now goes before the city council, whose members, like Mayor Murray, have backed the $15 hourly rate, but who may yet change some elements of the proposal. If enacted, Seattle will have the nation’s highest municipal minimum wage, just as Washington state currently has the nation’s highest state hourly minimum ($9.32). Continue reading

The Battle for Seattle

by Zach Cunnigham

Zach Cunningham

Zach Cunningham

The AFL-CIO’s 2013 convention came with a great deal of fanfare.  Unlike other conventions in the recent past, many felt a sense of revitalization surrounding this year’s proceedings as the federation moved to change strategy in a number of key ways.  Perhaps most indicative of this shift was the passage of Resolution 16.  Titled “Enduring Labor-Community Partnerships,” this resolution noted the “broad macroeconomic transformations” that have “[accelerated] deep divides and inequalities in our society.”  “Unions must work hand in hand with community partners and allies,” it continues, “to reverse these economic trends.”

In the run-up to the convention, Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times wrote that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka “believes that if unions are having a hard time increasing their ranks, they can at least restore their clout by building a broad coalition to advance a worker-friendly political and economic agenda.”  What’s currently happening in the Seattle area could serve as a testing ground for this theory.

These are certainly interesting times for the labor movement in Seattle.  As Paul Bigman recently wrote in Labor Notes, there have been a number of “dramatic actions by and on behalf of workers in the past few months.”  These actions included a victory for the “traditional” movement, as both the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Teamsters successfully fought a concessionary contract for many grocery workers in the area.  There have also been a number of victories for workers outside the channels of collective bargaining, such as the passage of a $15 minimum wage in SeaTac (a small airport community outside of Seattle) and the election of Socialist Kshama Sawant to Seattle’s city council. Continue reading

How’d Seattle Do It?

by Paul Bigman

Bigman pic

Seattle grocery workers claimed attention with their strike-countdown clock. As they beat concessions, other area workers were winning a $15 wage and electing a socialist to city council. What’s in Seattle’s water? Photo: Vote Sawant.

Is there something in the water in Seattle?

The area has seen dramatic actions by and on behalf of workers in the past few months: defeat of concessions at major grocery chains, Boeing workers’ big “no” vote on concessions, a $15 minimum wage voted in for airport workers, and election of a socialist to city council—a candidate who made a city $15 minimum the centerpiece of her campaign.

Activists are hoping what’s happened here has implications far beyond the Puget Sound.

“We may be ahead of some areas, but we’re not unique,” predicted Dave Freiboth, head of Seattle’s county labor council. “This kind of change is coming nationally.”

In October, two hours before a regional grocery strike would have jumped off, 30,000 Food and Commercial Workers and Teamsters won a contract that defeated onerous health care concessions, and more, that had been forced on their co-workers in other states.

A few weeks later, Boeing Machinists (IAM) turned down an extortionist demand to freeze pension contributions for current workers, abandon defined-benefit pensions for new hires, and pay new hires $21,000 below current workers. Boeing had demanded an eight-year contract extension to keep work on the 777X airplane in Washington. Despite extraordinary intervention by the IAM International, the 31,000 Boeing workers voted “no” two to one. Continue reading

What You Need to Know About the Seattle Teachers’ Rebellion and the Deeply Flawed Test That Inspired It

by Sarah Jaffe

Photo: Flickr creative commons: Fort Worth Squatch

Photo: Flickr creative commons: Fort Worth Squatch

High school teachers in Seattle are saying no to the spread of high-stakes standardized tests. On January 10, the staff of Garfield High School voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to their ninth-grade students. For two weeks they’ve held firm, even as the superintendent of schools has threatened them with a 10-day unpaid suspension, and teachers at other schools have joined their boycott.

“Garfield has a long tradition of cultivating abstract thinking, lyrical innovation, trenchant debate, civic leadership, moral courage and myriad other qualities for which our society is desperate, yet which cannot be measured, or inspired, by bubbling answer choice ‘E.’” wrote Garfield High history teacher Jesse Hagopian in a Seattle Times op-ed.

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