$15 wage supporters undecided on second try in Tacoma

15 NOW campaign volunteers Sarah Morken, right, and Maxine Reigel talk before early results came in Tacoma on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015.
15 NOW campaign volunteers Sarah Morken, right, and Maxine Reigel talk before early results came in Tacoma on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. Staff photographer

Backers of a $15-an-hour minimum wage for Tacoma workers say they’ll be rethinking their campaign in the near future after voters Tuesday approved a phased-in $12 minimum instead.

More than 71 percent of those voting on the issue in Tuesday returns opted for the $12 instead of the $15 minimum. 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.

“We’re planning to discuss what we do next,” said 15 Now volunteer Vince Kueter. “We have a variety of options in the fight for a living wage.”

He called Tuesday’s voters’ decision a partial victory for $15 advocates.

“We still have a lot of energy to channel,” he said.

Su Docekal, organizer for the Freedom Socialist Party in Seattle, said the voters’ approval of the $12 minimum wage in Tacoma was enabled by 15 Now’s efforts to raise the wage by $3 more per hour.

“But I wouldn’t be surprised to see the $15 wage emerge again in a couple of years when workers realize the $12 an hour is not a family wage,” she said. The Freedom Socialist Party was a strong backer of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle.

Kevin Hayes, co-founder of the $12 for Tacoma campaign said $15 advocates played a key role in raising the Tacoma wage from the state minimum of $9.47 an hour.

“They got that conversation started,” he said.

The $15 backers had advocated an instant hike to the $15 wage rate, but business interests including the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce backed a less dramatic and more gradual escalation.

Hayes said he doubts that the $15 wage issue will be raised again anytime soon. But, he said, it would behoove backers of a higher wage to “engage more with the business community” before mounting a new wage-raising effort.

The $12 for Tacoma group raised and spent nearly $100,000 on its successful campaign, more than 10 times what the $15 group spent.

Kueter said he’s unsure that Tuesday ballot results accurately reflected Tacoma voters’ sentiments on the wage issue because of the way the ballot was structured.

That ballot first asked voters if they wanted to raise the minimum wage in Tacoma. Then it asked whether they preferred the $15 proposal or the $12 plan.

The voters who said they opposed the wage raise were allowed to choose between the $12 and $15 hourly plans.

The $12 for Tacoma campaign urged those “no” voters to pick the $12 proposal.

If all those who voted against any wage increase were subtracted from the total approving the $12 plan, the $15 wage measure would have emerged the winner, Kueter said.

In Portland, Maine, on Tuesday voters rejected a measure to raise the minimum wage there to $15 an hour. The Portland City Council had earlier voted to raise the minimum wage in Maine’s largest city to $10.10 an hour.

A fledgling nationwide organization backed by the the Service Employees International Union, the Fairness Project, is working to get the $15 wage approved in several states.

Ryan Johnson, Fairness Project executive director, said the Tacoma vote is indicative of a nationwide sentiment to raise wages for the nation’s lowest-paid workers.

He said the project isn’t focusing on a like wage for every city and state. Costs of living and business conditions vary.

“The right amount depends on what local voters want,” he said. In Maine, the project is working for a $12 wage statewide. In Washington, D.C., and California, the project is backing a $15 minimum.

The local 15 Now organization is not affiliated with any larger national effort to increase the minimum wage, its backers said.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663


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