The Truth About Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage

Taking to the streets to celebrate Seattle’s landmark minimum wage proposal? You might want to dial it back a bit: the mechanics of this groundbreaking labor rights moment are much more complicated than originally reported, and not everyone is happy with how this minimum wage reform worked out.

While Mayor Ed Murray’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour is an important step for labor rights and a critical part of the larger conversation over wages and the valuation of workers, it’s still simply a proposal, and it has a long way to go before it can be put into action. Along the way, there are a number of stumbling blocks.

Murray drew attention right out of the gate by making minimum wage a major issue, passing an executive order to increase the minimum wage for city employees almost immediately after taking office. He was riding the wave of support for a higher minimum wage, which played a prominent role in the November election and in the push to increase SeaTac’s minimum wage to $15 per hour — though, notably, this important law actually excludes those working for SeaTac’s largest employer, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

On May Day, an international day of action and rallying point for workers, Murray revealed his minimum wage plan, but it’s so byzantine and complex that it’s nearly impossible to follow, whether you’re an economist, a low-wage worker wanting to know how this will affect your paycheck, or a union organizer getting ready to advocate for your comrades. His proposal involves a wage schedule divided into four classes on the basis of company size, whether people receive benefits and whether employees receive tips. It has wages increasing at different rates over the course of a decade, until all employees reach a minimum wage of $18.13 in 2025.

This complex scheme is a compromise reflecting input from labor, businesses and politicians in Seattle, and not everyone is happy with it, including City Council member Kshama Sawant. She campaigned on a minimum wage increase, and isn’t satisfied with the compromise, arguing that it reflects too much influence from corporate interests wanting to keep wages down, and not enough input from labor and individual workers. She’s concerned that this is a diluted version of the original proposal, and one that ultimately won’t provide the best options for workers, and thus argues for pushing harder for a better implementation of minimum wage laws in Seattle.

Sawant is using dissatisfaction with the minimum wage schedule as an organizing tool. In the short term, she wants to put a proposal on the ballot to allow voters to decide on how they want to see a minimum wage proposal implemented — in bits and pieces over a period of time, or in a much more clear and organized way.

She’s also projecting into the future, attempting to build up a grassroots movement in Seattle to work on other community and social issues. If she’s successful, Seattle could just become a major organizing center for labor in the United States. The city has long played an active role in labor organizing and community movements, and organizing around minimum wage could make it much stronger.

Photo credit: Paul Rysz.


Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper3 years ago


Karen S.
Karen S3 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Donna F.
Donna F3 years ago

noted. I agree w/Pam W., that a minimum wage should be a liveable wage

Diane L.
Diane L3 years ago

Pam W., that all sounds good and for the most part, I'd agree with you. However, some jobs simply do not warrant as much compensation as others. That's why we have such things as universities and colleges, community colleges, technical schools, etc., not to mention "on the job" training and experience. Why do you think someone putting burgers in a paper bag should receive the same pay as a skilled worker that had years of training or education? We all started at the "bottom" for the most part, when we got out of school, providing we went to school. If all jobs paid the same, what incentive would there be to improve one's skills or education? We'd all be working for McDonald's, since that doesn't require much of either.

Diane L.
Diane L3 years ago

BMutiny, I am shocked you are stooping to such disrespectful and insulting behavior. I am far from showing any prejudice or negative behavior towards Sawant because of her race or country of origin. I just think she's extremely naive and unrealistic. I'm well aware of who she is, where she came from, and you seem to forget that I live here. She has a large following of people in her community (Sea-Tac) which is a bedroom community near Burien, and not a large number of people who live there in the first place, but she was very convincing when she was a candidate for office. So was Sarah Palin. Fortunately, Palin wasn't elected. Other than standing up for womens' rights (which is a good thing) and wanting unskilled and uuneducated people to all make as much, if not more than those who actually have skills and an education, she hasn't said a single thing that impressed me. If she impresses you, that's great. We are all entitled to our opinions, you included, but how DARE you judge me because I don't agree!

BTW, if you're going to call ME an "ignoramus", you might look in the mirror and learn proper grammar and punctuation. "Public Speaker" is not a proper noun and doesn't require capitals. Normally, I wouldn't correct someone for such things, but I also won't stand back and be called names by a hypocrite, either.

BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

Diane L:
What an IGNORAMUS you show yourself to be! I really shouldn't call names, but there IS NO OTHER WORD that fits.
First of all, you show IGNORANT PREJUDICE by pretending to be baffled by a foreign name that isn't as familiar to you as Smith or Jones.
Kshame Sawant {"or whatever her name is"}, her family is from INDIA. She is an Immigrant, a Feminist, a Worker, and, PROUDLY, a self-identified SOCIALIST!
She IS INDEED a Seattle City Council member, in full standing like the others! I voted for her, as did all my friends. "Flash-in-the-pan"??? YOU WISH!!! She in fact was voted in by a LARGE MAJORITY in her district. Also, she has A LARGE ORGANIZATION behind her. They just held a demo this past Thursday. Yup, it's a large and enthusiastic group, not tiny like "Socialist" groups usually are. She has crowd appeal beyond "Socialism". She is a fine and exciting Public Speaker and definitely has the "presence" of a potential Star! {Her flashing eyes and nice looks don't hurt, either!}
One does indeed, living here, have the idea that this is the beginning of SOMETHING BIG, we are living in an Historic Moment. The Living Wage idea has spread to many other U.S. cities, and even to other COUNTRIES. Wow! Seattle leads the way.... this can't be stopped, now... no idea what the end outcome will be...

Rosa Caldwell
Rosa Caldwell3 years ago

Thanks for shearing.

pam w.
pam w3 years ago

"Minumum wage" should be a LIVEABLE wage..otherwise, people will still need assistance and we (the tax payers) will still be forced to subsidize them.

I'm really tired of paying taxes to support people who can't live on the wages BIG BUSINESS pays. Essentially, I'm supporting big business while they make obscene profits on the backs of fellow workers.

What's wrong with this picture?

Danial w.
Past Member 3 years ago