Washington State already has the nation’s highest minimum wage. But if the leading contender to become Seattle’s next mayor gets his way, the state’s largest city could raise the bar even higher.
State Sen. Ed Murray (D), who finished first in the city’s Aug. 6 primary election, said Tuesday he would press for a $15-an-hour minimum wage if he wins in November. Murray said he would phase in the new wage, beginning with city employees and contractors, then expand it to include fast-food and big-box store employees.
Murray is seen as the more centrist candidate in the race. Incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn (D), a neighborhood activist known for riding his bicycle to work, is trying to portray Murray as the business-backed candidate in a city where business backing can be more of an albatross than an advantage. Murray would also create a new Office of Labor Standards to require compliance with city labor laws.
Murray finished first in a crowded field in August, taking 29.8 percent of the vote. McGinn, who ousted incumbent Mayor Greg Nickels four years ago and has had a rocky tenure leading the Emerald City, finished second, with 28.6 percent of the vote. Murray is seen as the front-runner ahead of the November general election showdown.
There’s a political aspect to Murray’s proposals. As the Seattle Times’s Jim Brunner writes, making the case for a higher minimum wage “serves as a counter to McGinn’s effort to portray himself the true progressive and Murray as a tool of downtown business interests.”
It’s not clear the city council would pass a minimum wage hike even if Murray wins in November. Even some of the more liberal members of the city council have questioned the wisdom of raising the rate, and the city’s Chamber of Commerce, which still holds some sway at City Hall, says it wants to pursue other options before hiking the minimum wage.
The state’s minimum wage, at $9.19 an hour, is already the highest in the nation. Earlier this month, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed legislation that would eventually raise his state’s lowest wage to $10 an hour.
Seattle isn’t the only city in the region pushing for a higher wage. Voters in SeaTac, a small town in south King County that surrounds the region’s international airport, will vote on an initiative to raise the minimum wage in their city this November. Supporters and opponents of that measure had raised $440,000 to spend for or against the initiative in a city of just 11,852 registered voters. That’s about $37 per vote, the Seattle Times reported in August.