It is important for any movement to take stock of it’s accomplishments, and certainly the fact that today Seattle’s city council voted unanimously to phase in a $15 minimum wage for the city qualifies as an accomplishment worthy of recognition. At the same time we need to recognize and discuss the fact that the deal struck in Seattle is so full of corporate loopholes and set backs that declarations of victory may be premature if not backed up by a continued, active fight to close those loopholes and make the the deal in Seattle $15…Now.
It is a huge accomplishment that the council of one of the biggest cities in the country voted unanimously to implement a $15 minimum wage. It will undoubtedly inspire people across the country to join the Fight for $15 and start 15 Now chapters in their own cities and states. It also ups the bar in the face of those in the Democratic Party who are running around the country trying to pawn off $10.10 as an actual living wage. Despite the overly long and sometimes needless phase in periods, in 2015 the wages of Seattle’s low wage workers will start going up and making their way toward $15. In this sense the vote in Seattle today is a big accomplishment that will invigorate an already rapidly growing movement. That is worthy of taking a moment to celebrate. The Fight for $15, indeed working class struggle in general is a long and protracted fight. We need moments of celebration to energize us and give us the strength to continue the daily and difficult work of changing the system.
Even while we should acknowledge and celebrate this accomplishment there are so many problems with the deal in Seattle that declarations of victory seem somewhat premature and have left many people feeling justifiably deflated.
- Corporations that make billions of dollars in annual profits don’t need years to phase in. While it is true that under this deal the minimum wage for many of Seattle’s low wage workers will rise to $11 per hour in less than one year, the fact is that large corporations can afford to pay $15 now, but they are not paying $15 for a few years.
- Tip credits and health care credits actually reduce workers’ real wages that can be used to buy food and pay rent. Even if eventually phased out, these credits mean that at first there are likely to be some workers who actually see a decrease in their monthly net pay.
- Lower “training wages” could encourage companies to move to a model of short-term temporary labor in order to take advantage of the lower short-term rate of pay, especially among large, low- wage-paying corporations that already have high employee turnover.
- The sub-minimum wage for teenagers fails to help the many teens in Seattle who work not for extra spending money, but because their family needs the income extra income to help pay the rent and the bills.
- Categorizing businesses with up to 500 employees as “small” for the purpose of the phase in schedule is ludicrous.
So while those of us within the $15 Now movement who have worked hard justifiably want to celebrate the accomplishment of getting a large city like Seattle to pass a bill for $15, we also need to be open and honest about the fact that the workers of Seattle themselves are not getting $15 Now, they are getting $15 Eventually, in about a decade. While we allow ourselves a moment to celebrate what we have accomplished so far, we also need to make certain we recognize the fact that even in Seattle, and certainly in the rest of the country, the Fight for $15 is far from over.
In Seattle, 15 Now has already responded to the deal with a letter outlining a couple of the more serious problems that need to be fixed. In addition to that first step, the signature gathering effort for a ballot measure that will close the corporate loopholes needs to continue in order to send the message that the working class will continue to struggle and will not just settle for watered down, corporate approved comprises. The working class has comprised and been beaten down enough. With this recent accomplishment now more than ever, it is time to continue fighting.
Outside of Seattle, here in Portland and throughout the rest of country, we need not only to continue building our grassroots, working class power, but we must begin in earnest conversations about how we can avoid the pitfalls and corporate loopholes encountered in Seattle. We need to learn from the experience of Seattle in order to ensure that as the movement grows and spreads it truly is a movement for 15 Now, not 15 Eventually.
Big Business spent a lot of money to ensure those corporate loopholes made it into the Seattle City Council’s $15 bill. We need your help fight and ensure that we avoid the same corporate loopholes here in Portland. Donate to 15 Now PDX and volunteer today so we can fight the Big Business attacks on Portland’s working class!