City of Seattle $15 Per Hour Minimum Wage Increase Veto Referendum (November 2014)
|Not on Ballot|
| This measure did not or |
will not appear on a ballot
|Not on ballot|
This failed veto referendum petition drive was run by a group of small business owners called Forward Seattle, who were opponents of the $15 per hour minimum wage approved by the Seattle City Council on June 2, 2014. If the referendum had made it on the ballot, the petitioners responsible for it would have urged voters to reject the wage increase.
Angela Cough, co-owner of the Flying Apron Gluten Free and Vegan Bakery in Fremont and the co-chair of Forward Seattle, said, during the rushed petition drive campaign, “We don’t have much time, this is our last opportunity to try to do something about this and make sure we are heard." She also stated that she supports a minimum wage increase, but not one so drastic as $15 per hour.
Pressured by an initiative drive run by the group 15 Now seeking even more extreme minimum wage increases, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved, with several amendments, a minimum wage plan arrived at by Mayor Ed Murray and his Income Inequality Advisory Committee. This plan took the following steps:
- Increased the minimum wage for businesses with over 500 employees to $15 per hour over three years;
- Gave such large businesses that offer benefits four years to increase their minimum wage to $15 per hour;
- Required businesses with fewer than 500 employees to make the jump to $15 per hour over seven years;
- Temporarily counted tips, bonuses and alternate compensation toward the minimum wage, with this credit phased out over time;
- Allowed a temporary, lower training wage.
The ordinance was designed to take effect 30 days after it was signed by Mayor Murray, but due to the submission of about 20,000 signatures in a referendum petition effort, the law was put on hold until the submitted signatures were declared insufficient.
Text of measure
The full text of the ordinance targeted by this referendum is available here.
- Note: Those who were opposed to the $15 per hour minimum wage ordinance and supported the referendum effort to overturn it are referred to as supporters in this article.
Forward Seattle, a coalition of small businesses, was the group behind the petition drive.
Arguments in favor
Referendum petitioners and other opponents of the council-approved minimum wage ordinance argued that jumping to a $15 per hour minimum wage was simply too drastic and would cause businesses to stop hiring or shut down entirely, hurting the very employees the bill was designed to help. Many proponents of the veto referendum effort were in favor of a smaller minimum wage increase, such as to $12.50 per hour.
- Note: Those who supported the $15 per hour minimum wage ordinance and opposed the effort to overturn it are referred to as opponents in this article.
- Mayor Ed Murry was the chief proponent and pusher of the targeted minimum wage ordinance.
- Kshama Sawant ran for city council as a socialist and made an increased minimum wage one of the cornerstones of her campaign and her time in office. She fought for a more drastic minimum wage increase, but expressed approval for the final ordinance once it was approved.
Sage Wilson, spokesperson for a group of labor and community organizations called Working Washington, was opposed to the referendum effort. Responding to Forward Seattle representatives who claimed businesses were not given enough opportunity for input during the minimum wage debate, Wilson said, “These business owners have had ample voice in the debate. They simply failed to win over the public. Losing a debate is not the same as not having a debate.”
While Kshama Sawant and her supporters in the group called 15 Now collected signatures for an initiative calling for an immediate jump to $15 per hour for large businesses, Mayor Ed Murray put together an advisory committee to attempt a compromise between the labor interests and the business interests of the city. On April 30, 2014, Mayor Murray announced that 21 out of the 24 members of his advisory committee had agreed on a minimum wage increase proposal. On June 2, 2014, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved the plan, which was designed to phase in a $15 per hour minimum wage over three to seven years, depending on the size of the business in question and alternate compensation such as tips and benefits. After the wage reached $15 per hour, it would be tied to the Consumer Price Index and would, according to estimates, reach $18 per hour for all employees by 2025.
The plan would give businesses with over 500 employees three years to increase their minimum wage to $15 per hour. Such businesses that offer health benefits would be given four years. Smaller businesses would have seven years to implement the changes. The proposal would also temporarily allow tips, commissions and other benefits to count towards the minimum wage, with this credit eliminated over time.
Sawant, one of the three members of the committee who originally did not approve of the plan, called Murray's final proposal "watered down." She urged her followers and the 15 Now organization to continue to collect signatures for their own initiative that would implement an immediate jump to a $15 per hour minimum wage for businesses with over 250 employees. Sawant said, “Every year of a phase-in means yet another year in poverty for a worker. Our work is far from done.” When the plan was finally approved, however, Sawant hailed it as a triumph for the working man. When confronted with the apparent variation in her position on the mayor's proposal, she said that, while it was still possible to improve the bill and win even more for low-wage workers, she fought against the proposal, but once it was approved she acknowledged that it was a step in the right direction and a historic victory for the people.
According to a study done by the University of Washington, about 30,000 city residents work for companies that have more than 500 employees, which amounts to only about a third of city workers that have a wage of lower than $15 per hour.
The advisory committee
Mayor Murry's Income Inequality Advisory Committee consisted of the following individuals and representatives:
- David Rolf (co-chair), SEIU 775
- Howard Wright (co-chair), Seattle Hospitality Group
- Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata
- Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell
- Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant
- Janet Ali, Nucor Steel
- Sarah Cherin, UFCW 21
- Maud Daudon, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce
- Craig Dawson, Retail Lockbox
- Bob Donegan, Ivar’s Restaurant
- David Freiboth, Dr. Martin Luther King County Labor Council
- Joe Fugere, Tutta Bella
- Audrey Haberman, Philanthropy Northwest
- Nick Hanauer, Second Avenue Partners
- Pramila Jayapal, Center for Community Change
- Eric Liu, Citizen University
- Gordon McHenry, Solid Ground
- Dave Meinert, Onto Entertainment
- Craig Schafer, Hotel Andra
- Diane Sosne, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW
- Nicole Vallestero Keenan, Puget Sound Sage
- David Watkins, Seattle Hotel Association
- Michael Wells, Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce
- Ronald Wilkowski, Financial Services
Daudon, Dawson and Sawant were the only committee members that did not approve of Murray's final plan. Sawant and local business owner Craig Dawson voted against the proposal, and Daudon, representing the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, abstained from voting.
Democracy Now, "Seattle's Socialist City Council Member Kshama Sawant Hails Historic Vote For $15/Hour," June 5, 2014
Kshama Sawant and 15 Now activists:
Kshama Sawant, the socialist Seattle City Council Member who originally criticized Mayor Murray's proposal because of the phased in approach and the built-in exceptions for businesses, said, "We did this. Workers did this. Today’s first victory for 15 will inspire people all over the nation."
The International Franchise Association:
The International Franchise Association, a trade organization based in Washington, D.C., immediately announced a lawsuit against Seattle after the council approved the minimum wage ordinance. The association disapproved of the difference in wage requirements based on the number of employees, arguing that this provision is unfair to businesses that have chosen to go the franchise route.
Steve Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Association, said:
The Seattle City Council and Mayor Murray's plan would force the 600 franchisees in Seattle, which own 1,700 franchise locations employing 19,000 workers, to adopt the full $15 minimum wage in 3 years, while most other small business owners would have seven years to adopt the $15 wage.
These hundreds of franchise small business owners are being punished simply because they chose to operate as franchisees. Decades of legal precedent have held that franchise businesses are independently owned businesses and are not operated by the brand's corporate headquarters.
—Steve Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Association
Working Washington sound clip of a circulator misleading a signer
Many minimum wage proponents were resentful of the way in which Forward Seattle went about collecting signatures for the referendum. They argued that referendum circulators disseminated more misinformation than fact. Specifically, they accused the signature gatherers of taking advantage of those who did not know about the council's ordinance by saying their petition was designed to increase the minimum wage, rather than overturn the council's increase.
Path to the ballot
Forward Seattle, a group of small business owners, raised enough money to hire 80 paid circulators, who collected slightly fewer than 20,000 signatures and submitted them on July 2, 2014. The group had to collect 16,510 signatures by July 3, 2014, to force a referendum election. Since signatures were submitted before the deadline, the county elections office had 20 days to verify if enough of the submitted signatures were valid. On July 15, 2014, the King County elections officials announced that 15,004 signatures had been investigated, yielding only 11,412 valid signatures. This left 3,924 signatures left to verify, which would not be enough to qualify the measure for the ballot even if every single one was valid. Thus, the elections office announced the referendum petition insufficient.
If the petition had been certified, the city council would have been forced to put the measure on either a special election ballot or the next regularly scheduled city election ballot. The minimum wage ordinance was set to go into effect on July 3, 2014. By submitting signatures for a veto referendum, however, Forward Seattle delayed the implementation of the law until the submitted signatures were found to be insufficient. Since the signature petition for the veto referendum were rejected, the minimum wage ordinance was implemented.
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- KUOW, "New Frontiers On The Minimum Wage Fight," June 25, 2014
- The Stranger, "Referendum on the $15 Minimum Wage Will Not Go to the Ballot This Year," July 15, 2014
- The Seattle Times, "Mayor Murray announces his $15 wage plan," May 1, 2014
- The Seattle Times, "Seattle City Council approves historic $15 minimum wage," June 2, 2014
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- Vice News, "Meet the Group Trying to Kill Seattle’s Minimum Wage Hike," July 7, 2014
- The New York Times, "Seattle Mayor Details Plan for $15 Minimum Wage," May 1, 2014
- The Spokesman-Review, "Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proposes phase-in to $15 minimum wage," May 2, 2014
- Reuters, "UPDATE 3-Seattle approves hike in minimum wage to $15 per hour," June 2, 2014, archived June 20, 2014
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- Hot Air, "Seattle pushing back on the $15 minimum wage," July 6, 2014