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Friday, June 27, 2014

Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage Law Faces Challenges

Forward Seattle co-chair Kathrina Tugadi collecting signatures at the recent Fremont Fair. (Deborah Wang/KUOW)

Forward Seattle co-chair Kathrina Tugadi collecting signatures at the recent Fremont Fair. (Deborah Wang/KUOW)

More than 20 states have set their pay floors above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and about 30 are considering increases.

Earlier this year, Seattle became the first city in the country to mandate a $15 an hour minimum wage for all of its workers. The new law is set to take effect next April. Big businesses will have to move to $15 an hour by January 2018, small business have a longer phase-in.

But before that happens, the law faces several challenges, both at the ballot box and in court. From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Deborah Wang of KUOW reports on the coming fight.




Well, now to Seattle, the first city in the country to mandate a $15 an hour minimum wage. The new law takes effect next April and it will be phased in over three years, but there are already many challenges, both at the ballot box and in court. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, KUOW's Deborah Wang reports.

DEBORAH WANG, BYLINE: Challenges to Seattle's $15 minimum wage law are advancing on several fronts. One is being cooked up inside a small Seattle cafe. Angela Cough's business, Flying Apron Bakery, employs about 30 people. She has two retail locations that sell gluten free and vegan food.

ANGELA COUGH: We've got scones, and muffins, and cake and cupcakes and...

WANG: Cough is a supporter of raising the minimum wage. But the current plan requires small businesses like hers to pay $15 an hour by 2021, and that rises to more than $17 an hour by 2024. She thinks $12.50 an hour would be a reasonable compromise.

COUGH: We have no idea what is going to happen as a result of the ordinance. We have no idea. There's never been a city whose actually gotten this aggressive on increasing the minimum wage. Any of the prior city examples have spent years increasing to essentially the rate we're at now.

WANG: And Cough says the plan was rushed through the City Council in record time. A lot of the people she talks to don't even know it has become law.

COUGH: And when they think about it, they're like, whoa, wait a second. We didn't actually think that was going to go through. That actually went through? That was signed into law?

WANG: So Cough and the group she co-chairs, Forward Seattle, are trying to put the law up for a vote.

KATHRINA TUGADI: Hi there. Interested in signing a petition?

WANG: Forward Seattle co-chair, Kathrina Tugadi, is collecting signatures in front of Cough's cafe.

TUGADI: There was a minimum wage law recently passed in Seattle. And what we want is to put it on the ballot so Seattle voters can vote it up or down.

WANG: That will happen in November, if Forward Seattle can collect more than 16,000 signatures before July 2. Angela Cough says she's basically turned her business over to her husband so she can make the deadline.

COUGH: Because we don't have much time, and this is our last opportunity to try to do something about this and make sure that we're heard.

WANG: Seattle's minimum wage law is also being challenged in court. The International Franchise Association says the law discriminates against franchise holders who operate Subways, McDonalds, and a host of less known brands.

KATHY LYONS: My name is Kathy Lyons. And with my husband and I, we own BrightStar Care here in North Seattle.

WANG: Kathy Lyons is a plaintiff in the suit. She employs 22 people in a franchise business that provides in-home care for seniors. The new law regards all franchisees as big businesses because of their connection to a larger corporate parent. That requires them to phase in the $15 an hour minimum wage faster than other small businesses. Lyons says that puts businesses like hers at a disadvantage.

LYONS: We're just like our partners down the street who provide home care that are not a franchise. And to put us on a different level of playing field to be able to compete, it's just not just - in my terms, un-American. You know, that's all I can say.

WANG: Seattle's mayor, Ed Murray said challenges to the city's minimum wage law are just a distraction. The city, he notes, is on solid legal footing in terms of how the law regards franchisees and as for the ballot challenges? Murray says he isn't surprised by them, but he is disappointed.

ED MURRAY: I worry that this is going to poison the atmosphere between business and employees in this city. I thought we had a way to come together. No one was happy, but no one is ever happy when you work on a compromise.

WANG: Murray says if the law put before voters, he thinks it will win at the ballot box. And supporters of the law say they're prepared to fight for it.

PHILIP LOCKER: I don't think there's any standing still. It's still up in the air.

WANG: Philip Locker is one of the founders of 15 Now - that's a group that's been advocating for a $15 an hour minimum wage plan that's even more aggressive than the one Seattle's law makers just passed. Locker says the strategy for preserving the new minimum wage law is to ensure that it spreads beyond Seattle.

LOCKER: Either we succeed in spreading $15 throughout King County and Washington State, and nationwide, or Seattle is going to be under enormous pressure from business to undermine, water down further, and eventually overturn the 15 that was passed here. It's not secure, it's not stable.

WANG: And the fight is likely to be a long one. Whatever happens in the courts on November's ballot, several other groups have announced their intention to challenge the law as well. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Deborah Wang in Seattle.

HOBSON: And you're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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