SEATTLE — The idea of a $15 minimum wage continues to build momentum in the Seattle area, with Mayor Mike McGinn saying he would support an effort to set the standard even higher.
In an interview with The Associated Press, McGinn said he thought $15 was a “fair starting point” for the minimum wage discussion. He cautioned that the issue was best handled legislatively and that the actual number would be determined by city councilmembers.
“If the council proposed a higher number, I’d support that,” said McGinn, who is seeking re-election next month.
He added later: “I would expect that, if re-elected, we would put together a coalition to figure out how far we could go on the minimum wage.”
McGinn challenger Ed Murray recently announced that he would push for a $15 minimum wage but planned to proceed with a phased-in approach. Washington already has the nation’s highest state minimum wage at $9.19 an hour, while San Francisco is the local jurisdiction with the highest hourly standard at $10.55.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and advocates have been pressing nationwide to push the number higher. In a small effort in the Seattle suburb of SeaTac, union-backed advocates were successful in getting a ballot measure that would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Both McGinn and Murray said they support the SeaTac initiative. Both also indicated they’d focus on a legislative change to the minimum wage in Seattle instead of a similar initiative.
Business groups have typically expressed concern about the impacts of the minimum wage on small businesses. Maud Daudon, president and CEO of Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said the SeaTac initiative could lead to fewer entry-level positions.
Daudon said her organization shares a broader concern about the income gap and wants to make sure that people aren’t left behind. But she said the issue is a lot more complex to manage, requiring officials to focus on job training, education, affordable housing and health care. She said the chamber was interested in working with political leaders to find solutions.
“I think we’re very, very open to that conversation,” Daudon said. The chamber’s political arm has endorsed Murray.
McGinn and Murray said they’d like to discuss the issue with the business community in order to get their input in the process.
Murray’s plan would start by focusing on making sure the city’s workforce and contractors make $15 an hour. He would then focus on large entities like fast-food chains or big-box stores. He agreed that small businesses will need to be protected in some way.
“It’s not an easy thing to walk up to,” Murray said.
McGinn dismissed Murray’s proposal for having so many qualifications and caveats.
“It seems to be more talking than action,” McGinn said. McGinn doesn’t have a specific plan, saying stakeholders need to be engaged in a dialogue about the issues.
Nick Licata, a member of the city council, has said he doesn’t expect the issue to move quickly. He said the council needs to address other issues to help low-wage workers, such as affordable housing.