Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll: Divided Tacoma Minimum Wage Task Force plans go to City Council

No one said it would be easy.

And by all indications, it wasn’t. In fact, if you were to compile a list of adjectives that best describe the work of Tacoma’s Minimum Wage Task Force, it would almost certainly include descriptions like “stressful,” “rushed” and “sometimes divided.”

Still, as Thursday’s second-to-last meeting of the task force came to a close, two legitimate proposals had emerged.

Each has its strengths, and each leaves something to be desired.

It should come as no surprise that over the course of six meetings, no consensus was reached. A true consensus among this diverse group — business owners, union reps, workers and academics — was never going to happen in less than two months.

There were simply too many points of contention, and too much at stake. This was a labor negotiation, as task force member and Celebrity Cake Studio owner Odette D’Aniello correctly observed last week.

What we have instead is two proposals that reflect solid intentions and, predictably, their backers’ stake in the game.

The first option, which was endorsed by nine task force members last week and is being referred to as “the combo proposal,” would achieve a $15 minimum wage for all Tacoma businesses by 2024.

“Back to the Future” hoverboards may hit shelves sooner.

Businesses with more than 150 employees would get to $15 four years faster, by 2020 … which is only five years from now, but still sounds a bit like science fiction.

Under this plan, the first significant raise would take place on July 1, 2016, bumping everyone up to $11 an hour. Subsequent raises would take place every January, with small businesses jumping 50 cents a year, and big ones by a dollar.

The “combo proposal” is supported by each union rep and nonprofit interest on the task force, along with Pastor Gregory Christopher, University of Washington Tacoma Urban Studies Director Ali Modarres and Lincoln High School student Abranna Romero-Rocha.

For all intents and purposes, this is the task force’s pro-labor proposal.

Enter Option B, as we’ll call it. Proposed by Doyle’s Public House owner Russ Heaton on June 18, Option B has the backing of six task force members. It has a goal of raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2019, for all businesses — big and small.

Raises would take place each January, starting in 2016 with a bump to $10.25. The next two years would see 50-cent raises, until a 75-cent bump in 2019 brings Tacoma to $12 an hour.

Option B has been endorsed by Heaton, D’Aniello and the other four business-minded members of the task force.

Consider it the task force’s the pro-business rebuttal.

In a letter to task force facilitator Jim Reid, the group writes that, “We have made as much progress as we can in this very limited time given to us,” and, “We feel a $2.53 raise in the minimum wage to $12 per hour is a Tacoma-sized solution.”

Points for hometown creativity, certainly.

But is a little more than a 50-cent raise each year for the next four years enough to make a significant difference in the lives of Tacoma’s low-wage workers?

That goal, after all, is why we’re having this conversation in the first place. If we don’t achieve it, what’s the point?

For the moment, however, let’s focus on what both proposals get right (sometimes begrudgingly).

Both are straightforward. Aside from differentiating between “big” and “small” businesses in the “combo proposal,” the proposed changes won’t be hard for Tacoma residents to understand.

And neither include regressive caveats like a tip credit or training wage for young or inexperienced workers, which would create a loophole for businesses to pay certain types of workers less than others. While some on the task force weren’t wild about this concession, they made it, which deserves recognition.

So here we are. This process has been about coming up with an alternative to the 15 Now Tacoma proposal that business owners and politicians have called “too extreme” for Tacoma.

Unfortunately for our elected officials, their job hasn’t gotten any easier. They’re still in a pickle because, after six meetings, business and labor remain divided.

We have two new proposals.

The question now is, what will the City Council do with them?

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