Tacoma voters decided to raise the city’s minimum wage to $12, according to results Tuesday evening, and advocates across the board agree that wouldn’t have happened if not for 15 Now Tacoma.
“Congrats to 15 Now (Tacoma),” said Kevin Hayes, co-founder of the $12 for Tacoma campaign, on Tuesday night. “They got this in front of voters, and they did a good job to at least raise the question about wages and fairness here in Tacoma.”
On the question of whether to raise the wage floor at all, voters agreed by a wide margin. But when it came to the dollar amount, they overwhelmingly chose $12 phased in over two years over $15 immediately.
The 15 Now Tacoma campaign was disappointed, a volunteer said, but people were taking comfort in the fact that they changed the conversation.
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The group is “proud of the work we did and happy about the partial victory,” volunteer Vince Kueter said, though supporters maintain $12 is still not a living wage. “Everyone knows that there wouldn’t be the raise that’s coming in … if it wasn’t for us. We made that happen.”
The first step toward $12 over the state-mandated wage floor of $9.47 will be to $10.35 starting Feb. 1.
The council, Chamber and other supporters have called the $12 measure an alternative to $15, but the items didn’t appear as separately on the ballot. Instead, theere was a two-part question. The first question was whether to raise the city’s minimum wage or not; the second was by how much to raise it: $15, which would have gone into effect immediately for almost all businesses, or $12 phased in over two years.
City officials said state law required the issues to appear together. The last time Tacoma voters faced a similar question was in 1988.
Critics said the structure could make it potentially confusing to voters. The campaigns, concerned that a minority of advocates for a higher wage would decide the issue, took pains to urge even “no” voters to mark the second part of the question.
Tuesday’s results, while still early, indicated less than 10 percent of voters skipped the second question.
The showing indicates “voters understand $12 is best for Tacoma,” said Tom Pierson, CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber.
The seeds of the minimum wage vote were planted more than a year ago, when local activists petitioned the City Council to raise the wage during its debate over paid sick leave. Their request was ignored, and they formed 15 Now Tacoma with plans to take the question directly to voters.
Tacoma is just the third city in Washington to move toward a higher minimum wage. The cities of SeaTac and Seattle both have laws requiring a minimum wage higher than the state’s rate of $9.47 an hour. Seattle’s took effect earlier this year and requires businesses to reach $15 an hour by 2021, with large companies required to get there sooner. SeaTac has a $15 wage floor for certain sectors of its workforce.
15 Now Tacoma representatives have said those two cities took too long to get to $15. The Tacoma group wrote its initiative to take effect much faster — as soon as Dec. 4, according to the opinion of Tacoma’s city attorney.
The $12 initiative calls for the city’s hourly wage to rise to $10.35 by Feb. 1, 2016; $11.15 by Jan. 1, 2017; and $12 by Jan. 1, 2018.