January 22, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 4

News

Sawant forges two paths in pursuit of a $15-an-hour minimum wage for Seattle

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

Sawant’s income pie

Photo by Jon Williams / Arts Editor

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Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant joined hundreds of supporters at the Seattle Labor Temple Jan. 12 for the kickoff of $15 Now, a campaign to get the Seattle City Council and mayor to pass a city-based $15-an-hour minimum wage or bring it to voters in November as a ballot initiative.

Speaking to that crowd, Sawant pledged to donate a portion of her nearly $120,000 salary as a city councilmember to political causes. She promised to pay $1,250 each month to the campaign, totaling $15,000 for the entire year.

While she throws her financial support to a campaign to raise the minimum wage, Sawant is also working with a 23-person committee Mayor Ed Murray appointed to create a minimum-wage proposal for the city council to pass without going to the ballot. The committee includes lawmakers, labor advocates and businesspeople.

Sawant is pushing for a $15-an-hour minimum wage inside of City Hall and out.

She’ll support the mayor’s efforts to pass a higher minimum wage through the city council as long the ordinance is not watered down.

“When we say minimum wage, we mean all workers,” Sawant said. “A universal minimum wage is all that we are fighting for.”

Murray’s panel expects to come up with a minimum-wage ordinance by April. If it fails, or falls short of the $15 Now campaign’s goals, the group will have a short window to collect the signatures necessary to make the November ballot.

The campaign would need 19,047 signatures — 10 percent of the total voters in the last mayoral election — by early July.

In the meantime, the $15 Now campaign is building its membership and profile. Hundreds appeared at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Rally and March Jan. 20, and the campaign has started forming neighborhood groups.

Philip Locker, Sawant’s former campaign manager, said the $15 Now campaign will push city lawmakers to create a minimum wage, but is not relying on politicians to get the job done.

“You have till April to present a strong, adequate $15-an-hour minimum wage,” Locker said of the city council and mayor.

Sawant intends to donate a portion of her city council salary to other political causes in addition to $15 Now. On the campaign trail, Sawant criticized Seattle City Councilmembers for being overpaid and out of touch with working people. She pledged, if elected, to take home a salary closer to that of the average Seattle worker. The median household income in Seattle is $63,470.

The Seattle City Council, which sets its salary each election cycle, is among the highest paid in the country. According to a 2011 study by The Pew Charitable Trusts Philadelphia Research Initiative, at nearly $120,000 per year, Seattle councilmembers take home more than their counterparts in Boston and Chicago.

Sawant, a Seattle Central Community College economics professor, beat 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin with an Occupy-inspired campaign platform of securing a $15-an-hour minimum wage and decrying corporate politics at city hall.

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