The members of Tacoma’s minimum wage task force began their work Thursday night by agreeing that their recommendations on raising the city’s wage will be “based on data and facts.”
Even that won’t be simple.
“Let me tell you when data can help and when data can't help,” said Ali Modarres, task force member and director of Urban Studies at the University of Washington Tacoma. Everyone views everything, he said, through their own lens of experience and belief.
“No data is innocent,” he said, and the goal should be to ask the data the right question.
The 17-member task force is on a tight schedule. It has nine meetings over five weeks to come up with an alternative to the ballot measure being pushed by 15 Now Tacoma, which would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 almost immediately, with no ramp-up and little accounting for business size.
15 Now Tacoma has until June 17 to gather enough signatures to put the measure to a vote, and is 85 percent of the way there. The task force plans to finish its work by June 30, and make a recommendation to the Tacoma City Council.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland convened the task force in light of the ballot measure, something she acknowledged in her opening remarks.
“If you look at why we’re here today, I’ll be honest about it: 15 Now Tacoma forced our hand,” she said.
Strickland said the council could have crafted its own policy and passed it into law without going directly to voters, but “we wanted a diverse opinion,” she said.
“Whatever you come up with, we will take that as a basis for what we do,” she said. The council hopes to “have something to put before voters that we all can support.”
After another task force member suggested that the mayor meant a second ballot measure, task force member Sarah Cherin of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 said that wasn’t ideal.
“My organization would like to see the council just pass something,” said Cherin, who also was on the task force for Seattle’s minimum wage law.
If the group doesn’t come up with a consensus recommendation, it still can present the council with options, facilitator Jim Reid said.
During Thursday’s roughly two-and-a-half hour meeting, the group agreed on a work plan, ground rules and a statement of mutual interests. That statement is a list of nine goals put together from interviews the facilitator conducted with each member over the course of the past week. They include:
• “Produce recommendations that are based on data and facts.”
• “Make the solutions as simple and efficient to implement as possible.”
• “Ensure the city’s economy is strong, healthy, vibrant and diverse.”
• “Anticipate, identify and avoid unintended consequences.”
The audience was made up mostly of people representing larger groups: The UFCW, Service Employees International Union, the Washington Restaurant Association, Tacoma-based national staffing company True Blue, and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber. Also attending was a representative of student government at the UWT.
The only private business owner there was William Easley, who owns an independent coffee shop on South Union Avenue near the Target shopping center.
Easley said raising the minimum wage to $15 either sooner or later will put him out of business. “This will cost me $33,000, and I made $40,000 last year,” he said. “I’m not going to work for free.”
He is philosophically opposed to a minimum wage, he said, because it makes it harder for him to reward good employees and respond to bad ones.
“I have 10 employees,” Easley said. “They’re not all equally good. They average $10 an hour plus tips.
“Some get better tips,” he said, “and that’s fair.”