Seattle Workers Appear to Win the Fight for $15

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In a major victory for labor groups and low wage workers, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced his plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, the highest level in the nation. The announcement comes after months of debate and deliberation, brought to the forefront by Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant. Sawant won her seat on the City Council running as a socialist, championing workers’ rights and putting pressure on businesses to pay their workers a living wage. Along with Murray, business leaders, and labor group heads, a plan was reached to phase in a wage hike of nearly 60 percent to minimum wage earners.

The plan works by raising wages gradually over the next several years, with different levels for small and big businesses. After wages reach the $15 level, they will then be tied to inflation and go up every year. Washington state already has the highest minimum wage in the country at $9.32 per hour, and the blowback from businesses large and small alike is sure to be palpable.

What does it mean for low wage and unskilled workers in Seattle? For the city’s working poor, it means that thousands will be lifted out of poverty, or at least be far better off than before. While the cost of living has skyrocketed, along with rent, food, and transportation costs, wages have remained stagnant, as has been well-documented. The number of people receiving aid in the form of public assistance should drop, and tax payers will no longer be on the hook to subsidize the labor costs for businesses.

On the other hand, there are some definite drawbacks as well. With a huge increase in labor costs, businesses are going to take countermeasures. This will happen in the way of workforce reduction, cut benefits, and possibly moving out of the city limits all together. It could ring as a troubling development for the city’s unskilled and migrant workers, who may lose any prospect of getting hired at all. Of course, there is evidence that minimum wage increases don’t necessarily lead to massive layoffs, but there will definitely be some concessions made by the business community to offset the increased costs to their operation.

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