HR Management & Compliance

Speak up now: Seattle $15 minimum wage proposal comment period is open

by Amy Kunkel-Patterson

The Seattle employment community is abuzz about the prospect of a $15 minimum wage for all Seattle employees, which would make it the highest minimum wage in the nation.

The idea isn’t new. In the fall of 2013, voters in the city of SeaTac passed a $15 minimum wage initiative, and Kshama Sawant was elected to the Seattle City Council on a $15 minimum wage platform. Upon taking office, Mayor Ed Murray formed the Income Inequality Advisory Committee (IIAC), which represents a diverse range of business, labor, and nonprofit interests, and asked it to propose a set of recommendations for increasing the minimum wage for Seattle’s workers. Murray appointed two cochairs who represent opposite sides of the minimum wage debate—David Rolf, president of a local SEIU healthcare union, and Howard Wright, founder of Seattle Hospitality Group.

On May 1, 2014, the mayor’s office announced the IIAC’s plan to incrementally increase Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next 11 years.

The proposal

The compromise plan calls for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, implemented over three to seven years depending on the size of the business and whether workers receive benefits or tips.

Under the plan, small employers—those with fewer than 500 employees—will have until 2019 to reach $15 per hour if their employees don’t receive tips or aren’t enrolled in an employer-paid healthcare plan. Small businesses that provide tips or healthcare plans will have until 2021 to institute the $15-an-hour wage and may claim up to $3 per hour for tips and healthcare benefits that appear on employees’ paystubs.

Large businesses—those with 500 or more employees—must reach $15 per hour by 2017 if they don’t provide tips or healthcare benefits. Large businesses that do provide those benefits have until 2018 to reach the $15-per-hour minimum wage.

For both small and large employers, the minimum wage will rise each year until it reaches $15 per hour. Additionally, the plan calls for wages to be indexed to inflation starting as soon as large businesses reach the $15 threshold and starting in 2025 for small businesses.

Speak up now

The Seattle City Council is now considering this plan in a proposed ordinance. Council members have scheduled work sessions to discuss the proposed ordinance and solicit community feedback. The final two will be held:

  • May 27 after the 2:00 p.m. City Council meeting, City Council Chambers
  • May 29 at 9:00 a.m., City Council Chambers

These meetings are open to the public, and the City Council has allotted 20 minutes for public comment at each meeting. The council will also accept written public comments at any time. If your business employs minimum wage workers, consider attending one of these meetings or providing written feedback before the proposed ordinance is passed. And even if your business doesn’t have employees in Seattle, vigilance on this issue is wise because a similar proposal may be coming your way soon.

Amy Kunkel-Patterson is an associate with Perkins Coie’s Labor & Employment practice in Seattle and an editor of Washington Employment Law Letter. You can reach her at