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Forum Post: What To Make of Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage Plan

Posted 3 years ago on May 5, 2014, 9:55 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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What To Make of Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage Plan

BY Arun Gupta


If you’re a low-wage worker in Seattle good luck figuring out how much you will earn under Mayor Ed Murray’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. In a news conference on May 1, an international day of worker protest and celebration, Murray unveiled a “minimum wage plan so complicated reporters can’t understand it,” as described by The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly.

Kshama Sawant, a socialist elected to the Seattle City Council last fall on a platform of a $15-per-hour minimum wage, says the proposal is a step forward, but notes that it contains numerous loopholes and could take more than a decade to come into effect. “If we don’t remain unrelenting, we’re going to get very little,” she says.

Under the mayor’s plan, which the council has to approve and can alter as it sees fit, workers will fall under one of four classes depending on the size of the business they work for, whether they get tips and whether the employer provides healthcare.

The proposal gives big business—defined as those with more than 500 employees nationally—three years to raise wages to $15 an hour, and four years if they provide healthcare. “Small” businesses, which cover more than 99 percent of businesses in Seattle and 70 percent of full-time workers, have seven years—until 2021—to get to $15 an hour if they only offer wages. If the employer offers healthcare or the worker earns tips, then those dollar amounts will be added to wages so their “minimum compensation” is $15 an hour by 2019.

Are your eyes glazing over? There’s more. The mayor’s communications director, Jeff Reading, says businesses must offer a healthcare plan at the Silver level or higher under the Affordable Care Act to count as paid compensation. As each group of workers reaches the $15-an-hour threshold, an annual cost-of-living adjustment of 2.4 percent will kick in. Finally, the minimum compensation will be phased out by 2025, and by which time, thanks to the cost-of-living adjustments, the wage floor is projected to be as $18.13 an hour. If this plan holds, it will outstrip the state’s minimum wage, which also has built-in cost-of-living increases and is projected to reach $12.08 an hour by 2025.

Murray said his proposal had the “confirmed support” of 21 of the 24-member Income Inequality Advisory Committee he set up last December to tackle the issue, including labor leaders. David Rolf, a committee co-chair and president of Service Employees International Union Healthcare 775NW, praised “my brothers and sisters from the labor movement and the business community” in reaching agreement on a deal that could benefit an estimated 100,000 workers in Seattle.

As to why the plan is so complicated, Rolf tells In These Times, "Our goal was to negotiate something that had business and labor support and the highest chance of moving through the City Council. The good news is that when all the scales are done, everyone hits the same point—approximately 18.13 by 2025.” He adds, “We have in the city a pretty vibrant restaurant scene that includes a lot of very small, minority and immigrant owned restaurants. ... What we heard from responsible small businesses was not that they could never get to 15, but that they needed time to plan.”

Asked why profitable megacorporations like McDonald's can't afford to pay workers $15 an hour immediately, Rolf says that, "They undoubtedly could," but "a purist position" would not have gotten a supermajority of committee support.

One committee member withholding support is Kshama Sawant, whom Reading says has made “a tremendous contribution to the dialogue” on income inequality. A leader of Socialist Alternative, Sawant got the ball rolling by making a $15-an-hour minimum wage the centerpiece of her successful run for Seattle City Council in 2013. Sawant says the Seattle campaign owes its success to the Occupy Wall Street movement, fast-food workers organizing nationwide for $15-an-hour wage and a union, and the ballot measure approved by voters last November for a $15-an-hour wage floor for hotel, restaurant and travel workers in SeaTac, a suburb of Seattle.

Sawant takes a nuanced view of the mayor’s proposal. She told In These Times that the plan reflects the fact that the “business and political establishment have lost the public debate on $15 an hour and they had to respond to it.” At the same time, 50 percent of the mayor’s advisory committee represents Seattle businesses, including two Chamber of Commerce representatives. Sawant says “through the Chamber, Starbucks got a seat at the table, but the workers of Starbucks didn’t get a seat at the table.” She says the committee “watered down the proposal as much as they could.” Sawant points to McDonald’s in particular, which generated $5.5 billion in global profits in 2013.

That’s the least of the worries of advocates for a robust $15-an-hour minimum wage. As tepid as the mayor’s proposal may be, it could be further weakened when the Seattle City Council gets hold of it. Sawant says, “Just because the Chamber of Commerce of Seattle is officially not opposing this proposal there’s no guarantee that some other lobbying organization that has all the money from McDonald’s, Starbucks, Koch Brothers might not come in” and try to defeat the proposal, fill it with more loopholes, or work to overturn it down the road.

Sawant’s concerns are not unfounded. Once the proposal goes to the City Council, Reading says the mayor “expects there will be changes. He added that “the overall framework of the deal announced today will likely remain intact.”

Even if the mayor’s proposal passes unscathed, many questions remain. What will happen to workers’ wages if a business adds or cuts healthcare that changes its schedule? Could a Burger King manager put out tip jars for employees and claim the tips count toward the minimum compensation? Given that fast-food corporations indemnify themselves from any legal responsibility for workers in their outlets, what if McDonald’s franchise owners claim they are independent small businesses and hence fall under the seven or even 11-year schedule?

For that matter, how will Seattle enforce these provisions? After the city criminalized wage theft in 2011, it failed to prosecute a single case for two years, despite City Council hearings last year where workers exposed “pervasive” wage theft in the fast-food industry.

For supporters of 15 Now—a community-labor alliance that Sawant helped found to keep the heat on the city for a wage boost—the battle is just beginning. Sawant has not endorsed the proposal, but neither does she dismiss it. “Any step forward in improving the living standard of the workers of this city is a victory for the movement,” she says, which means corporations will try to undercut a minimum wage proposal “in many ways [so] the movement should not stop.”

Sawant cautions that “it would be quite dangerous for us to assume this is a done deal.” The battle will move to the City Council as well as to the grassroots. On April 26, the 15 Now campaign held a national conference in Seattle attended by some 400 workers and activists. They voted for to push for a raise to $15 an hour that would begin January 1, 2015 for workers in businesses with the equivalent of 250 full-time employees or more and phase in over three years for businesses with fewer employees. The plan also differs from the mayor’s in having no tip credit and a narrowly tailored “opt-out” for unionized hotel and conference center workers who have negotiated an extensive low-cost health plan for them and their families.

The proposal is the same language as in a ballot measure already filed for elections in November. Sawant and other leaders of Socialist Alternative explained at the conference that the measure is one tactic in this ongoing skirmish. They are using it to pressure the City Council to pass a real $15 an hour proposal. If there are too many loopholes—what Sawant calls a “Swiss cheese” law—then they will push forward with the ballot initiative to get a better deal. To do that, they calculate they must gather at least 50,000 signatures by early July to make the measure official.

For Sawant and Socialist Alternative, the $15-an-hour wage is just the beginning. Their goal is to “build a grassroots base for other future battles. Fifteen dollars an hour is going to be a substantial improvement in people’s lives, but we need to build a movement to make a fundamental shift in society.”

Their next move is to start signature gathering for the ballot measure this month. Sawant says, “The city can be swarming with activists who by the act of collecting one signature have had one conversation with somebody that they didn’t know before, who may not have known so much about what $15 an hour means, and why the mayor’s proposal is weak, and why we need to fight back.” Having that conversation, she adds, “is what helps a movement blossom.”

Arun Gupta

Arun Gupta is co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street Journal and a founding editor of the award-winning grassroots NYC newspaper The Indypendent. A regular contributor to Salon and Alternet, he is writing a book on the decline of the American empire for Haymarket Books. His reporting on the national Occupy movement can be found at occupyusatoday.com.



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[-] 4 points by LeoYo (5909) 3 years ago

Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant responds to mayor's $15 minimum wage proposal

Mon May 05, 2014 at 03:25 PM PDT.


by Seattle SocialistFollow for Seattle and Puget Sound Kossacks.

Here are some highlights (and link) of Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant's responses to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's recent $15 minimum wage proposal for Seattle's workers:

The fact that the City Council of a major city in the US will discuss in the coming weeks raising the minimum wage to 15 is a testament to how working people can push back against the status quo of poverty, inequality, and injustice. The movement, starting with fast food workers nationwide, and pushed forward by SeaTac and 15 Now, is forcing business and the political establishment to accept raising our wages.

I don’t support phasing-in for big business. McDonalds and Starbucks have no justification for keeping their workers in poverty for a day longer. For workers in Seattle, 11 years is a very long time to wait for a decent wage. Every year of a phase in is another year of poverty for workers.

I do not support tip credit. Tip credit has proven itself to be a cause of poverty for tipped workers in the 43 states it exists in. It also overturns the 1988 democratic majority vote by WA state workers.

I do not see why businesses should get a healthcare credit. Business executives don’t have to make a choice between a decent wage and health care for their families. Why should workers have to make this false choice? Workers make this city run, and they deserve wages, tips, and healthcare.

The proposal I support is the proposal Labor and I brought to the IIAC and which was never voted on. Labor members and I had put forward a proposal that:

had no phase-in for big business. Big business has to pay 15 now had a 3 year phase-in for small business and nonprofits that had no tip credit and healthcare credit, and will be far more stronger

That proposal was not voted on, even though workers in Seattle overwhelmingly support it.

We still need a backup option should the city council fail to pass 15, which is why we need to keep up the pressure through signature collection. Join the movement of 15 Now to gather signatures to let the City Council know we are watching. Meanwhile, on the international end of things, the Guardian UK is warning of all out "class warfare" in Seattle over the brewing minimum wage fight:

Sawant’s campaign has resonated far beyond her city, giving her a degree of national recognition few local councillors ever enjoy. Her response on a Seattle cable channel to Barack Obama’s state of the nation address in January, in which she accused the president of betraying Americans mired in poverty , spread via the internet and reinforced her growing reputation among activists outside Seattle. Branches of a pressure group she helped established in the wake of her election, 15 Now, have sprung up from New York and Florida to California to replicate the minimum wage campaign there.

And here in Washington State, another 15Now group has joined the ranks: 15Now Tacoma!


[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 3 years ago

Shockingly, This Fast Food Company Treats Their Workers the Worst

Tuesday, 06 May 2014 09:37
By Anna Brones, Care2 | Report


As if fast food weren’t bad enough, there’s the plight of fast food workers. Low wages and bad working conditions have brought people to the street in protest around the nation, with workers demanding better wages. And while McDonald’s is often the one to get a lot of flack – after all, it was the company that launched an internal website with tips for employees that included breaking “food into pieces” which would give the illusion of more to eat — there’s another chain in town that’s currently in the standings for Worst Employee Treatment: Subway.

After doing an analysis of data from the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, CNN Money found Subway franchisees in violation of pay and hour rules in more than 1,100 investigations. Because each investigation can actually have multiple violations, there were more than 17,000 Fair Labor Standards Act violations found, resulted in $3.8 million of reimbursement to Subway workers.

What kind of violations are happening?

Not paying employees for time worked past their scheduled shifts, making “illegal deductions from employees’ wages when there were cash register shortages, causing their pay to fall below the federal minimum wage,” and “asking workers to sign contracts waiving time-and-a-half pay.”

Things are so bad that the Department of Labor has offered to partner with Subway to help them comply.

“It’s no coincidence that we approached Subway because we saw a significant number of violations,” a Department of Labor spokesperson told CNN Money.

Subway operates under a franchise model, which actually can help to reduce their accountability in situations like these. From CNN Money:

The fast food franchise model provides a layer of protection for Subway, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. Even though fast food locations may look the same and restaurants abide by similar branding and business guidelines, each franchise owner is treated essentially as a small business. Meanwhile, the corporate parents can distance themselves from being found liable of labor violations.

Those corporations are doing quite well financially. While Subway workers are making around $7.25 an hour, CEOs are certainly pulling in much more. Public policy and advocacy group Demos found that “in 2012, the compensation of fast food CEOs was more than 1,200 times the earnings of the average fast food worker. Proxy disclosures recently released by fast food companies reveal that the ratio remained above 1,000-to-1 in 2013.”

That’s a pretty big discrepancy. And there’s even a discrepancy vis-a-vis other industries. “The average CEO at fast food companies earned $23.8 million in 2013, more than quadruple the average from 2000 in real terms,” says Demos.

Numbers make the violations like Subway and their counterparts even more disturbing, especially when you look at recent reports that show that those executives are also benefitting from tax subsidies.

Subway might be the fast food chain with the most violations, but the fast food industry needs to be held accountable as a whole.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 3 years ago

The Other NRA

Thursday, 08 May 2014 00:00
By Saru Jayaraman, Truthout | Op-Ed


The powerful National Restaurant Association does all it can to assure that industry wages are kept so low many workers rely on public assistance and that paid sick leave - along with taxes - are avoided, making employees go hungry and customers sick.

When you're as powerful as the National Restaurant Association, you set the industry's wage and just about everything else.

McDonald's, Olive Garden and Burger King are just some of the corporations ruining our economy with poverty wages and business practices that make employees go hungry and make customers sick. Along with virtually all the major restaurant corporations out there, they belong to one of the most powerful lobbies in the country: the National Restaurant Association.

Members of the National Restaurant Association's (NRA) are titans of our fast-food nation: perpetuating climate change and pollution by sourcing huge amounts of factory-raised animals, slinging increasingly unhealthy food and fighting our right to know about what's in the food we're eating. The "other NRA" has lobbied for years against menu-labeling initiatives, until ultimately stripping states of their right to enact such laws. Other public-health policies the NRA has vigorously opposed include soda taxes, trans-fat bans, and lowering sodium levels, which are sky-high in most big chain restaurants. Just as some restaurants are starting to respond to consumer demand for ethically raised animals, the National Restaurant Association tasked its public relations gun-for-hire Rick Berman to mock restaurants that have pledged to source humanely raised pigs, even defending the use of gestation crates by "setting the facts straight" at maternitypens.com.

Unfortunately, the NRA's warped view of maternity doesn't end there. Despite women making up the majority of the restaurant workforce, the NRA has actively opposed legislation like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family Medical Leave Act, which aim to ensure economic security for women and their families. In general, the trade group is not pleased with the advancement of women's equality in the workplace - they've even opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act. That's not surprising, considering they've successfully lobbied to keep the federal tipped minimum wage at $2.13 per hour since 1991, and the majority of servers earning that abysmally low base-wage - and who are consequently living off tips - are women. Because they have to please customers to earn their livelihoods, these tipped workers are especially vulnerable to wage theft and sexual harassment. In fact, the restaurant industry is the single largest source of sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC, with 37 percent of all charges originating from the industry - that's five times the rate of the general female workforce.

Thanks to the NRA, corporate full-service restaurants - Red Lobster, IHOP, Applebee's - are effectively getting away with not even paying their workforce. With a subminimum wage as low as $2.13, servers regularly end up with $0 paychecks. Tax dollars supporting public-assistance programs go disproportionately to food-service workers; in fact, servers use SNAP at twice the rate of the general workforce. Money spent on "tips" at the end of a meal make up the majority, if not the entirety, of a server's wages. Even worse, our tax dollars are subsidizing CEO pay as well. A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, "Restaurant Industry Pay: Taxpayers Double Burden" shows that during the past two years, the CEOs of the 20 largest NRA members pocketed more than $662 million in fully deductible "performance pay," lowering their companies' IRS bills by an estimated $232 million. The company that has enjoyed the largest CEO-pay subsidy is Darden, the owner of Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and several other chains. Darden CEO Clarence Otis took in nearly $9 million in fully deductible "performance pay" over the years 2012 and 2013. That works out to a more than $3 million taxpayer subsidy. That means we're helping corporate restaurants pay their workers and their CEOs.

Not only is the NRA influencing legislation and votes, they're toying with what can be voted on. This is most visible in the fight for paid sick days. Despite (and in response to) widespread public support for paid sick days, the NRA has partnered with some of its corporate members like Disney and Darden Restaurants Inc. to preemptively ban localities across the country from being able to pass legislation that would make paid sick days mandatory. Currently, 90 percent of restaurant workers report not having paid sick days and a majority have had to work while sick. New research shows that just going out to eat doubles your chances of getting sick. Apparently, the NRA wants to make sure it stays that way.

When the NRA attempts to defend its agenda, it usually claims to be watching out for small "mom and pop" restaurants that would, allegedly, go out of business if required to pay a higher minimum wage or offer paid sick days. That's not just historically inaccurate, 6 in 10 small business owners support raising the minimum wage and a majority already pay above it. Sure, some small restaurant owners may be wary of raising wages, but they're competing against corporate restaurant chains that pay poverty wages, serve up cheap food, and expect taxpayers to subsidize their workers' pay and the bloated salaries of their CEOs.

A lobby this powerful and multifaceted has made a lot of enemies. Leading women's-rights, health, food, environmental, corporate accountability, and workers'-rights groups recently cosigned a full-page ad in The New York Times calling for Congress to stop accepting the NRA's corporate lobbying cash. That coalition is going to grow, and fast, so long as the NRA continues to sacrifice our health, planet, and our democracy in favor of supersized profits.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 3 years ago

Seattle to debate $15 minimum wage law amid warnings of 'class warfare'

Wrangle over highest minimum wage in the US, championed by Socialist councillor, likely to pit businesses against workers


Chris McGreal in Seattle

theguardian.com, Monday 5 May 2014 12.51 EDT

The only socialist city councillor in the United States is torn.

On the one hand, Kshama Sawant has claimed an “historic victory” for a populist campaign that pressured Seattle’s mayor, politicians and business owners to embrace by far the highest across-the-board minimum wage in the US at $15 an hour.

On the other, the economics professor accuses the Democratic party establishment and corporate interests of colluding to compromise its implementation as the city council on Monday begins to hammer out the terms for setting pay at more than double the federal minimum wage. Sawant is gearing up to put the issue on the ballot in November’s election if the final legislation is not to her liking – a move Seattle’s mayor has warned could result in “class warfare” as it is likely to pit big business against increasingly vocal low-paid workers and to divide the trade unions.

The Socialist Alternative party’s sole elected representative hailed the looming debate on the legislation as evidence of a growing backlash across the country against the wealthy getting ever richer while working people endure decades of stagnant wages and deepening poverty.

“The fact that the city council of a major city in the US will discuss in the coming weeks raising the minimum wage to $15 is a testament to how working people can push back against the status quo of poverty, inequality and injustice,” she said.

One third of Seattle residents earn less than $15 an hour. A University of Washington study commissioned by the council said the increase would benefit 100,000 people working in the city and reduce poverty by more than one quarter. The pay of full-time workers on today’s minimum wage would increase by about $11,000 a year.

Sawant can claim a good share of the credit for forcing the agenda. Seattle fast-food workers got the movement off the ground early last year in joining nationwide strikes and protests that began in New York. But the Socialist Alternative candidate helped put the $15 demand at the fore of Seattle’s politics by making it the centrepiece of an election campaign she began as a rank outsider against a Democratic incumbent. Sawant won in November with more than 93,000 votes, socialist views, strong denunciations of capitalism and the occasional quoting of Karl Marx evidently no longer an immediate bar to election in the US.

The mayor, Ed Murray, also threw his support behind the $15 campaign in the last weeks of the election, in part under pressure from one of the state’s largest trade unions, as opinion polls showed more than two-thirds of Seattle residents backed the move.

Once on the council, Sawant used her position to keep the pressure up. “My election had a decisive impact. Because we have a socialist on the city council we get a massively magnified microphone for our cause,” she said.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 3 years ago

'This is a historic moment for Seattle'

The effect can be seen as the city’s best-known councillor orders coffee at a Starbucks – one of the hugely profitable global corporations headquartered in Seattle and a target of her scorn for its low wages. Three young women working behind the counter recognise Sawant, who was raised in India and retains her Mumbai accent, from repeated appearances on the local news. They profess their support. Other customers approach to praise her policies.

Sawant’s campaign has resonated far beyond her city, giving her a degree of national recognition few local councillors ever enjoy. Her response on a Seattle cable channel to Barack Obama’s state of the nation address in January, in which she accused the president of betraying Americans mired in poverty , spread via the internet and reinforced her growing reputation among activists outside Seattle.

Branches of a pressure group she helped established in the wake of her election, 15 Now, have sprung up from New York and Florida to California to replicate the minimum wage campaign there.

But Sawant’s success in pressuring Seattle’s political and business establishment to accept the principle of $15 an hour has set the stage for a struggle over its implementation that looks likely to prove the hardest part yet.

Murray, newly elected as mayor, followed through on his campaign promise in December by establishing a committee of business interests, trade union representatives and politicians to map out the path to $15 an hour.

Sawant and trade union representatives pushed for the increased minimum pay to be imposed on large corporations from the beginning of next year.

Smaller businesses with fewer than 250 workers and non-profit groups would get a three-year phase-in with incremental increases. “The public battle on $15 an hour, that number, has been lost by business,” said Sawant. “There is so much support that they’re not able to come out and say: I don’t support 15. Now the fault lines have gone to: I support 15 but we have to do it thoughtfully. What they mean is, let’s not. Or let’s do it in such a way that it takes 10 years to get to $15. Then it’s meaningless. We’re saying that workers need $15 an hour in today’s dollars.”

Business interests argued for the higher minimum wage to be implemented over a decade or even two. They demanded the cost of benefits, such as healthcare insurance, be included in the calculation and that there be exemptions for teenage and new workers. A contentious issue was a push by restaurant owners for a lower minimum wage for workers who receive tips.

Murray announced the committee’s recommendations on May Day. They map out a circuitous route to $15 an hour spread over 11 years: large corporations would pay the new wage in full by 2017 if they do not provide health care coverage to workers. If they do, they get an extra year.

For businesses with fewer than 500 workers, the new pay structure would be phased in over seven to 11 years, depending on a number of factors. That accounts for about 30,000 workers in Seattle or a third of those making less than $15 an hour, according to the University of Washington study for the city council.

According to the recommendation, all businesses will be paying at least $15 an hour, adjusted for inflation, by 2025. That represents a 61% increase on Washington state’s minimum wage of $9.32 an hour, already the highest for a state in the country.

“This is a historic moment for Seattle,” said Murray. Council member Nick Licata, a Democrat, called the recommendation “very progressive”. Trade unions also backed the committee’s decision while acknowledging they had been forced to give ground.


But Sawant refused to endorse the recommendations. “The proposal that has been announced is the result of pressure from this movement. Unfortunately it also reflects the pressure from business to water down what the working people of Seattle want,” she said.

The city council is free to reject the recommendations of the mayor’s committee as it considers legislation in the coming weeks but it is likely the Democratic party establishment will rally around Murray.

Sawant is keeping up the pressure in league with a 15 Now campaign to collect 30,000 voter signatures to bypass the council and put an amendment to the city’s charter on the ballot in November requiring a $15 minimum wage on her terms.

Murray said he wants to avoid a fight over a ballot initiative because it “would end up in a mini-version of class warfare”.

An uphill struggle

The mayor has an eye on SeaTac, a neighbouring city of just 28,000 people which is effectively a Seattle suburb and home to the area’s main airport. It had a more limited $15-an-hour measure on the ballot two years ago. Businesses and trade unions, including Alaska Airlines, the American Car Rental Association, the Washington Restaurant Association and hotel owners poured a total of more than $2m in to influencing voters. The measure narrowly passed. Sawant is in no doubt that a similar showdown in Seattle, the largest city in the Pacific north-west, would attract the involvement of low paying multinationals beyond those, such as Starbucks and Amazon, based in the city.

“Walmart, McDonalds, they all have an interest in stopping us because we are the threat of a good example. It’s not only if we pass $15 an hour but when it is shown that it helps Seattle to prosper, then other cities will watch and follow,” she said.

Sawant said she too wants to avoid a ballot initiative by winning the support of local business interests for council legislation to require big corporations to pay the new minimum wage from next year and smaller enterprises within three or four years.

It’s an uphill struggle. A business coalition, One Seattle, has raised the spectre of layoffs, cuts in hours, and the closures of shops and restaurants if the minimum wage is pushed too high too fast. Seattle's chamber of commerce, which includes Starbucks and Amazon, said companies will cut jobs and raise prices to cover their costs. A group of minority-owned businesses wrote to Murray saying the increase would have hit immigrant workers hard.

This has not been the experience of other cities that have passed significant increases in the minimum wage. A study by economists at the University of California Berkeley of San Francisco and other cities and states that require minimum wages above the federal level concluded that higher pay did not come at the expense of jobs. Instead, the costs were passed on through a mix of low price increases and higher productivity. Another study came to a similar conclusion about a large increase in the minimum wage in Santa Fe. In both cities the economies continued to grow.

A group with links to the labor movement, Puget Sound Sage, produced a study that an increase to $15 an hour “would result in a $526m stimulus to low-wage worker households in Seattle and the region”. Most of that money would be spent in the local economy, it said.

Robert Reich, the US labor secretary in the Clinton administration, supports increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour on the grounds that it will not only benefit workers but employers.

Sawant said the message she is pressing on small businesses is that extra pay means more money for people to spend in local shops and restaurants. “You don’t need a PhD in economics to know where they’re going to spend the money. They’re going to spend it here,” she said.

If it does come down to a ballot, Sawant’s challenge will be to bring on board the voters who support the $15-an-hour principle but may be persuaded by arguments for gradual implementation. That task won’t be made easier by differences with trade unions which once offered their support but who have backed the recommendations by the mayor’s committee.

But for now, the ballot initiative hangs in the background as the council debates legislation. Licata, the Democratic council member who sat on the mayor’s committee, said he will press for its recommendations to be implemented. “It’s not perfect but it’s doable and I want to get something done,” he said.

Sawant is full of scorn. She says the mayor and his party have become an obstacle.

“He often talks about how we don’t want to create class warfare. That’s why he doesn’t want a ballot initiative, because he says it will be divisive and class warfare – and that’s where there is a clear divergence. My response to that is that this is capitalism, this is class warfare. The only thing that’s changed is that the working class in Seattle is finally forcing the political establishment, working people are speaking up.”