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Seattle Enacts Landmark $15/Hour Minimum-Wage Law

June 5, 2014

The city of Seattle, Washington, has enacted an ordinance that will gradually increase minimum wage to $15 an hour, by far the highest municipal minimum wage in the country.

The city council on June 2 unanimously approved the measure, which will gradually increase minimum-wage over the next several years. Mayor Ed Murray (D, pictured at left) signed the increase into law on June 3.

Details of the ordinance have been fiercely debated in recent months. In the end, the city council voted to split workers into four different employment groups, depending on the size of their employers and the types of benefits they receive.

The wage-increase schedule will be staggered by these employment groups. People who work for large employers but do not receive employer-sponsored health care will see their wages increase to $15 first, in 2017.

By 2021, all workers in Seattle will be covered by the $15 minimum wage. The city’s minimum wage will rise each year based on inflation.

Effects on Economy, Direct-Care Workers

Shortly after taking office as mayor in early 2014, Murray formed an Income Inequality Advisory Committee to explore the feasibility of a minimum-wage increase.

David Rolf, the president of SEIU Healthcare 775NW, served as committee co-chair. SEIU 775NW represents approximately 7,000 workers in Seattle, including home care aides and other direct-care workers employed in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and adult day care facilities.

“This is a huge win for workers, and a statement that Seattle is tired of waiting for CEOs or Congress to do the right thing on their own,” Rolf told PHI. 

Rolf added that the ordinance will not only help low-wage workers make ends meet; it will also boost Seattle’s entire economy:

In practical terms, [the ordinance] will mean over $3 billion in increased pay for Seattle’s workers in the next decade. In turn, this will provide a significant boost to our local economy as workers spend their pay to buy groceries, household necessities, school supplies, medicine, and clothing for themselves and their families.

The minimum-wage ordinance covers direct-care workers in almost all employment settings. Excluded from the ordinance are home care workers who are paid directly by the state Medicaid program as independent providers. Under state law, those workers’ wages can only be set by collective bargaining.

Rolf said that, under their current contract with the state, independent providers are mostly paid between $11 and $15 an hour, with approximately 25 percent earning $15 or more.

SEIU 775NW will work to ensure that future collective bargaining agreements pay independent providers the new municipal minimum wage, Rolf said.

— by Matthew Ozga

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