Politics & Government

Tacoma Minimum Wage Task Force weighs in with 2 proposals

Most on Tacoma’s 15-member Minimum Wage Task Force say hourly pay for all of the city’s lowest-paid employees should rise to $15 an hour by 2024. Businesses with 150 or more workers would reach that wage four years earlier.

The group voted 9-6 Thursday to recommend the proposal to the City Council.

Six business-minded members of the task force authored a minority report, which would elevate the city’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2019 with no difference depending on business size.

The City Council will hear both proposals during a Tuesday meeting.

Washington state’s minimum wage, at $9.47 per hour, is among the highest in the nation. The group 15 Now Tacoma began collecting signatures last year to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

When it became apparent that 15 Now’s issue would qualify for the ballot, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce urged Mayor Marilyn Strickland to come up with an alternative and gradual increase to the minimum wage.

Last week, task force members lamented the tight schedule to come up with such a momentous change.

One noted that Seattle’s task force had seven months to develop its proposal, which requires businesses to reach $15 an hour by 2021, with large companies required to get there sooner.

Two people dropped off the task force since it started meeting in late May.

One left because he was opening a business in Dallas. One minimum-wage worker dropped out because her work schedule shifted and she could not make the twice-a-week evening sessions the task force required.

Despite differing opinions on the minimum wage and a few tense moments, task force members on both sides said the discussions were always cordial.

The quick timeline forced the group to stay on task, Russ Heaton, owner of Doyle’s Public House and one of the authors of the minority report, said Friday.

“Both reports were crafted out of thoughtful research,” he said. “I don’t think anyone was capricious in nature.”

Task force members studied the cost of housing, looked at median income statistics and took their jobs seriously, he said.

The Rev. Gregory Christopher is among the nine who favor a higher minimum wage. He called the process stressful because the City Council urged the group to reach consensus.

“I really thought we could get to a compromise,” Christopher said. “If the bottom line is to help people in poverty, then I think that’s where the big picture should have been.”

Celebrity Cake Studio owner Odette D’Aniello said she realized from the first meeting that the task force was not just talking about a minimum wage but was entering a labor negotiation.

“You have to understand that for some of the panelists, this is what they do for a living,” D’Aniello said. “They negotiate for their labor unions. I’ve never been in a situation where I negotiated with labor. This is not my expertise.”

Brenda Wiest, legislative affairs coordinator with Teamsters 117, said the group worked hard to achieve a compromise. Some wanted the city to reach a $15 minimum wage sooner.

Task force members who work for nonprofit organizations, Wiest said, worried about an immediate increase in the wage on Jan. 1, 2016, as proposed by 15 Now Tacoma.

“A lot of them are on grant cycles,” Wiest said. Those grant cycles can start in the middle of a year.

“Having that immediate increase could make it really difficult for them to maintain services,” Wiest said.

D’Aniello and Heaton were among six who signed onto the minority report, which objects to businesses of different sizes having different minimum wages.

“... we don’t believe it makes any sense to recommend putting Tacoma at a competitive disadvantage in Pierce County and Washington state, let alone Seattle,” the report states.

It also says the current $9.47 minimum wage works well for many businesses and workers who receive benefits such as health insurance, tips, meals and retirement programs.

The City Council has until 4:30 p.m., Aug. 4 to transmit a resolution to the county auditor to get an issue onto the ballot.

Christopher said there is a chance both minimum wage issues would fail this fall.

“That means the people we were trying to help lose,” he said.