Speak Up Now: Seattle $15 Minimum Wage Proposal Comment Period Begins May 22

by Perkins Coie

The Seattle employment community is abuzz about the prospect of a $15 minimum wage for all Seattle employees, which would make it the highest minimum wage in the nation.  The idea is not new; in the fall of 2013, voters in the City of SeaTac passed a $15 minimum wage initiative, and Kshama Sawant was elected to the Seattle City Council on a $15 minimum wage platform.  Upon taking office, Mayor Ed Murray formed the Income Inequality Advisory Committee (IIAC), which represented a diverse range of business, labor and nonprofit interests, and asked the committee to propose a set of recommendations for increasing the minimum wage for Seattle’s workers.  Murray appointed two co-chairs of the IIAC who represented opposite sides of the minimum wage debate: David Rolf, president of a local SEIU Healthcare union, and Howard Wright, founder of Seattle Hospitality Group. 

On May 1, 2014, the Mayor’s office announced the IIAC’s plan to incrementally increase Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next eleven years. 

The Proposal

The compromise plan calls for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, implemented over three to seven years depending on the size of business and whether workers receive benefits or tips. 

Under the plan, small employers—those with fewer than 500 employees—will have until 2019 to reach $15 per hour minimum if their employees do not receive tips or are not enrolled in an employer-paid healthcare plan.  Small businesses that provide tips or employer-paid healthcare plans will have until 2021 to institute the $15 per hour wage, and may claim up to $3 per hour for tips and employer-paid healthcare benefits that appear on employees’ paystubs

Large businesses—those with 500 or more employees—must reach $15 per hour by 2017 if they do not provide tips or employer-paid healthcare benefits.  Those large businesses that do provide these benefits have until 2018 to reach the $15 per hour minimum wage.  Large employers would not be entitled to credit for tips and employer-paid healthcare benefits in calculating minimum compensation.

For both small and large employers, the minimum wage will rise each year until wages reach $15 per hour.  Additionally, the plans calls for wages to be indexed to inflation starting as soon as large businesses reach the $15 threshold and starting in 2025 for small businesses. 

Speak Up Now

The Seattle City Council is now considering this plan in a proposed ordinance.  Council members scheduled the following work sessions to discuss the proposed ordinance and solicit community feedback:

May 22 at 12:00 p.m.
City Council Chambers 

May 27 after 2:00 p.m. City council meeting
City Council Chambers 

May 29 at 9:00 a.m.
City Council Chambers

These meetings are open to the public and the city council has allotted 20 minutes for public comment at each meeting. The council will also accept written public comments at any time.  If your business employs minimum wage workers, consider attending one of these meetings or providing written feedback before the proposed ordinance is passed.  And, even if your business does not have employees in Seattle, vigilance on this issue is wise because a similar proposal may be coming your way soon.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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