I was prepared to be disappointed by Tacoma’s Minimum Wage Task Force, unveiled Tuesday.
Going in, there seemed to be plenty of reasons why the list would leave a lot to be desired.
The mayor and council created the task force at the behest of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber. A cynic like myself couldn’t help but figure the group would lean too heavily toward established business interests.
The list was compiled quickly, in only a week, and with each council member getting just one name; it seemed safe to assume that the group would be small in scope and that council members would be tempted to select people who shared their views rather than the broad representation of experts, small- and big-business owners, and workers of every pay grade that the process deserved.
And the council still is visibly irritated by the group of local activists who pushed this all to happen — 15 Now Tacoma. It wasn’t hard to imagine a task force that continued to ignore their concerns, and in the process, the people they’re fighting for.
So imagine my surprise when on first blush none of this seemed to happen.
Could the City Council actually be getting this right?
It’s too early to make such a declaration, because the end result is what’s important here. But since I’ve been critical of their inaction on the issue in the past, it’s only right to give the mayor and council some credit for what seems like an appropriately diverse task force and a solid starting point for the heavy lifting that’s to come.
Small businesses will have a voice. Labor unions will have a voice. Nonprofits and some of Tacoma’s most vulnerable populations will have a voice. Most importantly, low-wage workers will have a voice.
One name on the task force, however, caught my eye: Abranna Romero-Rocha, a sophomore at Lincoln High School.
Appointed to the Minimum Wage Task Force by the mayor (surely with some help from her husband, Lincoln Principal Patrick Erwin), Romero-Rocha now has a chance to bring to the table the concerns of the next generation of Tacoma’s workforce.
That’s no small task, especially in a room full of grown-ups, all with their own interests to protect.
But Romero-Rocha sounds up for the challenge. She certainly doesn’t lack confidence or conviction.
“Who wouldn’t want to be part of something so big and that causes so much change?” the 16-year-old told me. “I’m excited for (the task force) to hear my views, and excited to represent my peers. This is a huge opportunity.”
Romero-Rocha, who lives on the East Side, says her father is an agricultural laborer, and her mother works in a laundromat, and both would benefit from higher wages. While she doesn’t have a job yet, she expects to have one this summer and says many of her friends already do.
“I’ve talked to my peers, and they’re all for it,” she said of raising the minimum wage.
Looking ahead, Romero-Rocha describes her biggest concern as the looming cost of college. The ability to earn more now, she says, would help her — and others in her shoes — to move up in life without having to rely so much on student loans.
“You think of some place like Tacoma, and let’s admit it, we don’t have the best record for students going to college. People consider us the ghetto, which isn’t quite true ... but it’s part of it,” she said. “For some people it’s true, we don’t have enough money. (Raising the minimum wage) will help.”
When asked about Romero-Rocha’s selection to the task force, Mayor Marilyn Strickland told me she wanted someone likely to enter the workforce part time in the near future, earning minimum wage. “I’ve been told she’s smart, thoughtful and not afraid to speak her mind,” the mayor explained.
“Fifteen dollars sound pretty good right now,” Romero-Rocha said flatly. “We need to raise (the minimum wage) enough to make a difference.
“I think $13 would be my bottom line.”
Sounds like the mayor heard right.