Around 150 people rallied at Theater On The Square in downtown Tacoma to support a higher minimum wage here.
They supported two different approaches: One that increase the wage $15 per hour right away and another that appeared to support a phased-in approach. Dozens of members of various unions attended the rally. Some wore stickers that said “Raise Up Tacoma.”
The crowd made their thoughts clear: the state’s current $9.47 per hour minimum wage is not enough to pay much more than rent in Tacoma.
Jasmin Ferrante, 19, works at McDonalds. She said the state’s minimum wage has not reflected the true cost of living “in ages.”
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“People shouldn’t have to work 40 hours a week and still live in poverty,” Ferrante said.
Mike Ladd, a janitor who sided with 15 Now Tacoma, said politicians have wondered if the group planned to drop its $15 wage hike. Such a move is possible, but he made it clear Tuesday afternoon that the issue would remain on the fall ballot.
“Big business will drive us down as far as we can. There is no end to the race to the bottom,” Ladd shouted into a megaphone while the audience cheered.
He is among many who spoke at City Council meetings or signed informal petitions months ago to ask the council to consider raising the city’s wage.
The council wasn’t interested in taking up minimum wage until after 15 Now Tacoma turned in enough valid signatures to get the issue before voters this fall — and only after the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce asked the mayor to create a task force to counter 15 Now Tacoma’s proposal.
The task force came up with two plans: one that raises Tacoma’s wage to $15 per hour for employees who work for businesses that employ more than 150 people by 2020 and smaller businesses by 2024; and one that raises the minimum to $12 per hour by 2019.
“The battle lines are being drawn now,” Ladd said after his speech as groups of workers sweated and chanted in the afternoon heat. “It’s 15 Now, or 15 whenever.”
Many at the rally spoke of their struggle to pay rent and other bills and care for their families at the same time.
“It’s wrong for the corporate people to give us low pay,” said Eric Jones a man who works 65 hours per week for two different fast food restaurants in Tacoma. “We’re the ones working our tails off.”
After practicing a few chants, the group marched to the Tacoma Municipal Building.
Tacoma police officers on mountain bikes briefly stopped traffic on South Ninth Street and St. Helens Avenue to let the crowd safely pass. Shouting as they marched, they asked for a raise to what many call poverty wages.
At a noon meeting, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland told the council they would consider accepting the minimum wage task force’s report. This means the many who had marched to the council meeting would have been allowed to address the council at the public meeting.
But as she called the evening meeting to order, after the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence, she told the full auditorium that the council wanted more time to consider the task force’s recommendations. Some had recently returned from out-of-state trips, she said later.
One man shouted from the back of the room: “But we are here now.”
“We appreciate that, but this council isn’t ready to have that conversation right now,” Strickland said.
A few spoke to other agenda items as a way to tell the council their stories living on low wages. Two said affordable housing subsidies for developers did not provide affordable housing and only gave developers more money. Two praised the city’s plan to “ban the box,” where those applying for employment do not have to check a box if they have been convicted of a felony.
“If you are a black adult you are four times more likely to have a felony on your record, which represents unequal treatment under the law,” said David Chase. “… People of color are disproportionately minimum wage workers. Ban the box is one of the steps toward racial equality.”
Strickland told the crowd that the council would consider the task force’s recommendation during a daytime meeting on July 7, and the council might vote Tuesday, July 14 on a proposal to send to the ballot.