With the first phase of Tacoma’s minimum wage hike to go into effect next month, the local group responsible for pushing the envelope on the matter has been searching for a new purpose.
The question: 15 Now what?
Surely you remember the lovable group of rabble-rousers who captured our collective imagination last year. They were called outside agitators. Their ideas were compared to Marxist theory. Their proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, practically overnight, was something Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said would be “too much of a shock” to our economy.
And those are just the things I can print.
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While 15 Now Tacoma failed to reach its stated goal, the group succeeded in collecting enough signatures to get a $15 minimum wage initiative on the ballot. And, ultimately, it inspired city leaders to take action of their own, putting a competing phased-in $12 minimum wage initiative to voters that won approval last November.
The last time we heard from the group, 15 Now Tacoma leaders said they weren’t sure of their next move.
The answer to that question began to take shape last week, when I’m told a dozen or so locals still affiliated with the group met for two hours at the downtown Tacoma library.
Though the showing was small — an accurate representation of the number of people still involved with the 15 Now Tacoma movement — Sarah Morken, a 15 Now volunteer and organizer, offered an emphatic “yes” when asked if the meeting left her hopeful for the future.
Morken also revealed what some of that future is likely to be.
The Washington State Labor Council, SEIU and UFCW labor unions, along with billionaire entrepreneur Nick Hanauer are expected to run a statewide minimum wage ballot initiative in 2016.
As Josh Feit reported in late December for Seattle Met’s PubliCola, the Washington State Labor Council, SEIU and UFCW labor unions, billionaire entrepreneur Nick Hanauer, along with help from well-known political consultant Christian Sinderman, are believed to be “gearing up” to run a statewide minimum wage ballot initiative in 2016 that also includes a paid sick leave component.
And — what do you know! — a press release late Friday from Sinderman’s Northwest Passage Consulting previewed a “major announcement” Monday morning from “advocates for working families and wage equity,” including the filing of a citizen initiative.
All of this might seem like good news for 15 Now Tacoma. But according to Morken, the group spent the majority of Wednesday’s meeting talking about fears that a statewide initiative won’t go far enough.
While no firm details have emerged on what a such an initiative might look like, Morken says she’s heard from “some people involved in that campaign” that the initiative is likely to call for a $13.50 minimum wage phased in by 2020.
Morken’s not sure that’s good enough. More troubling, she says, is what feels like a “lack of a democratic process” in crafting the initiative. She tells me wage activists, such as those involved with 15 Now Tacoma, have been left out of the conversation.
“What actually ends up in that initiative makes all the difference,” she tells me when asked whether 15 Now Tacoma will support the effort.
Morken says if the group is unhappy with the final language of the statewide effort, it will likely move to provide “critical support,” meaning “explaining what parts of the initiative we think are going to be beneficial, and also being just as clear about the parts we don’t think are going to be beneficial.”
It will take 246,372 valid signatures by July 8 for any initiative of the people to make the 2016 ballot. However, the state Elections Division recommends submitting at least 325,000 signatures to cover for the inevitable invalid signatures or duplicates.
I’m disappointed I didn’t hear anything about (a possible statewide minimum wage initiative) until two weeks ago.
Sarah Morken, 15 Now Tacoma volunteer
There’s certainly historical precedent in this state for setting the minimum wage by initiative.
As David Ammons from the Secretary of State’s Office reminded me this week, voters in Washington signed off on the last minimum-wage hike in 1998.
Initiative 688, which passed nearly 2-to-1 at the ballot box, took the state’s minimum wage up incrementally to $6.50 by 2000. After that, the initiative dictated that the state’s minimum wage would adjust for inflation each year.
Ten years earlier, in 1988, voters had approved Initiative 518, which gradually increased the minimum wage to $4.25 by 1990. It passed by more than 3-to-1.
But back to the present. What exactly will happen in 2016 remains anyone’s guess. We’ll probably know a little bit more Monday morning.
And that’s exactly the uncertainty giving new purpose to 15 Now Tacoma, a group many probably figured they’d never hear from again.