Newly-elected Councilmember Kshama Sawant is already working on her campaign promise to establish a $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle.
At a press conference on Tuesday in the lobby of City Hall, Sawant gave few details of her plans, but she did draw a line in the sand. If the City Council does not work quickly to pass an acceptable wage increase, she said she would consider putting the issue on the ballot.
“We hope to be working collaboratively, but we are our clear about our agenda,” she told a large group of assembled reporters. “Our agenda is in favor of the working people of Seattle, and we want to do this as soon as possible.”
Sawant was surrounded by supporters wearing red shirts and holding signs that featured a worker with a raised fist and the logo "15Now.org." She said the website, which would be a place to show support for the $15 an hour minimum wage, would go live on Jan. 2.
Sawant said she is gathering input on her minimum wage package and would not release details until early next year. But she did say she favors a minimum wage increase that would be applied to all workers in the city, with no exceptions for small businesses.
Seattle's Mayor-elect Ed Murray and several council members have said they would support a $15 an hour minimum wage -- at least in principle.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien is among them. Although council members haven’t started focusing on the details of a minimum wage package, O’Brien said he’s confident the council can reach an agreement next year.
“There’s no question in my mind that there is urgency around addressing the issue of what a living wage is and what affordability means in a city like Seattle, and the political will is there do something in 2014,” O’Brien said in an interview.
O’Brien also applauded Sawant for her efforts to gather grassroots support for raising the minimum wage.
“The only way big decisions like this happen is when there is a lot of public pressure,” O’Brien said.
There is already one proposed ballot measure that deals with the minimum wage. Last week, anti-tunnel activist Elizabeth Campbell filed an initiative that would raise the minimum wage to $15. It would also lower taxes on businesses.
Campbell said she didn’t want to wait for the council to act. She has six months to come up with more than 30,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot.
Campbell sent a letter on Tuesday to the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission complaining about Sawant’s city hall press conference. She questioned whether it was proper for Sawant to use city resources to run a private campaign.
Correction 12/18/2013: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that an initiative sponsor had 60 days to collect the required signatures, when in fact the sponsor has six months.