$15 minimum wage supporters take plea to busy Tacoma intersection

Staff writerMarch 8, 2014 

Nearly 70 people turned out in a downpour Saturday afternoon at one of Tacoma’s busiest commercial intersections to support an increase in Washington’s minimum wage.

The organization 15 Now, a national group backed by organized labor, sponsored the Tacoma rally to make people aware of a campaign to raise the state minimum wage from $9.32 to $15 an hour.

Sign-carrying picketers stood outside the intersection at South 23rd Street and Union Avenue, a location chosen for its proximity to big-box discount stores and chain restaurants. The News Tribune emailed the corporate offices of some of those businesses — Walmart, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Target — earlier in the week seeking comment about the rally. No responses had been received as of Saturday evening.

“We as working people are fighting for our lives, for our survival,” Arthur Miller told those who assembled Saturday.

Sarah Morken, spokeswoman for 15 Now in Tacoma, said the local rally was part of a weeklong series of local actions around the state.

Louisa Swenson of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County said she came down to the Tacoma rally to support others like herself. She used to work at the Northgate Macy’s, where she said workers start at minimum wage or just above. But she left for a better-paying job working for a labor organization.

“The service industry is growing,” she said. “If we don’t have a better wage, what’s going to happen? I don’t know how the country is going to come back.”

Business groups frequently oppose increases in the minimum wage, saying mandated wage hikes hurt the economy because paying entry-level employees more forces them to cut jobs, benefits or both — and raise prices. But advocates for wage increases argue that putting more money in the pockets of workers will boost consumer spending and help grow the economy.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, a rate set in 2009. President Barack Obama has called on Congress to increase that rate to $10.10. The president has already issued an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their employees at least $10.10 an hour.

Many states set their own minimum. In Oregon, it’s $9.10, and in California, recent legislation would raise the minimum to $10 by January 2016.

The Puget Sound area has drawn national attention for campaigns to increase the minimum wage. Last year, voters in the city of SeaTac approved an increase to $15. In Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray is advocating for a $15 hourly wage. A committee of business and labor leaders is meeting to develop a proposal for the Seattle City Council.

Washington has the nation’s highest minimum wage at $9.32, and it is indexed to rise with inflation. But some of those walking the wet sidewalks Saturday said it’s not enough to make it in the Puget Sound area.

Kathleen Campbell of Tacoma said her work in churches and community centers has brought her in contact with people who work but can’t pay their bills due to low wages.

She said that $15 an hour is still low compared with the high cost of living in Seattle and Tacoma, but she said it’s better than the current rate.

“A lot of times, people can’t afford to live where they work,” Swenson added.

The 15 Now rally organizers have scheduled a public meeting in Tacoma on the $15 wage campaign. It’s set for 4 p.m. Saturday at the Tacoma Public Library, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635; debbie.cafazzo@thenewstribune.com; @DebbieCafazzo

The News Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service