15 Now Tacoma has emerged victorious.
It’s not the victory the group is ultimately after, of course. In fact, I’m sure they still feel slighted and disrespected, some of it warranted.
But what happened inside Tacoma City Council chambers Tuesday night, after four grueling hours of messy local democracy, is a testament to how far they’ve pushed and prodded the minimum-wage conversation in Tacoma.
They started as unknowns. Then they were outsiders. More recently, they’ve been agitators, extremists and worse.
Now they should take credit.
I don’t know what will happen in November. That’s when the 15 Now Tacoma initiative — which would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour almost immediately — takes on the $12 minimum wage proposal, phased in over 25 months, drafted by Mayor Marilyn Strickland and forwarded to the ballot by the City Council.
I do know there’s a better chance Tacoma gets a raise than I would have gambled a year ago.
Still, questions remain.
Plenty of them, actually.
For starters, the way the two initiatives will face off on the ballot — jammed into an unwieldy and unfortunate two-part exam — enters into a realm of byzantine complexity rarely seen in a citywide election.
It won’t be pretty, and voters will be confused.
Is the confusion intentional and malicious? It’s a well-worn charge, based on a well-worn election tactic and the notion that Strickland and the council, at the secret behest of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, wanted a competing minimum-wage initiative on the ballot in the hopes of sinking them both.
But, as the mayor said Tuesday night, “I think sometimes people give us too much credit.”
In this instance, she’s not just being defensive. I think she’s telling the truth.
This is a council that — with the likely exception of Anders Ibsen and perhaps Ryan Mello — doesn’t want to be seen as pushing a minimum-wage increase on local businesses. The wounds of the paid sick leave fight still sting. Putting the issue in the hands of voters gives the council cover.
Further undermining the conspiracy theory is the fact that the way the ballot will look might actually make a 15 Now Tacoma victory just a little bit easier.
Presented with both initiatives — 15 Now Tacoma as Measure 1 and the mayor’s $12 proposal as 1B — voters will first be asked to answer yes or no to the question: “Should either of these measures be enacted into law?”
Then, as the second part of the exercise, they’ll be asked to choose one of the initiatives, “Regardless of whether you voted yes or no above.”
If most voters pick “yes” on the first half of the question — voting in favor of a minimum wage increase, something that even critics concede has support locally and across the country — then the measure that receives the majority of votes on the second half of the question will become law.
But at least some of the people who vote against a minimum wage increase of any form won’t make it that far, right? I mean, why would they bother to pick between $12 and $15 when they want the status quo?
If they are wise, city officials will mount a robust educational effort in hopes of preventing sloppy voting. But some of it is bound to happen.
The way the ballot is constructed makes it highly likely fewer people will vote on the second half of the question, so 15 Now may well be competing slightly more against supporters of the $12 initiative, and slightly less against those who favor no increase at all.
Which changes the dynamic of the question.
It’s something Councilman David Boe might describe as an “unintended outcome” in all this.
Will it matter? Does the mayor’s $12 initiative have the juice to win?
Obviously, Strickland thinks it does.
Others, however, aren’t so sure.
Prior to Tuesday night’s vote, the reaction to Strickland’s $12 proposal from labor interests was a collective meh. It offers a phased-in approach which they see as more reasonable, but it doesn’t get to $15, which makes it hard for national labor organizations that have endorsed the national fight for $15 to get behind it.
There are consequences to the mayor choosing to shun the phased-in $15 proposal that was recommended by the majority of the handpicked Minimum Wage Task Force, including representatives from Teamsters 117, UFCW 21 and SEIU 1199NW.
Had she gone with the majority recommendation, the city’s proposal would have likely had labor backing and the money and manpower that goes with it.
Now? Maybe not …
As UFCW 21 Political and Public Policy Director Sarah Cherin said last week, “If they really want to beat 15 Now, putting $12 on the ballot isn’t going to do it.”
But that’s exactly what they’ve done.
During a study session last week, Strickland reminded her council colleagues that, “We want to put something on the ballot that we hope the voters in Tacoma will approve of.”
Whether they’ve accomplished that goal remains the biggest question of all.