Residents of Tacoma, Washington, are ready to raise the minimum wage -- just not too quickly.
Voters in the city of 200,000 appear to have approved a ballot measure this week that would gradually raise the minimum wage in the city to $12 per hour. At the same time, they seem to have turned down a more ambitious measure that would have boosted it to $15 almost immediately.
The dueling initiatives both appeared on the Tacoma ballot Tuesday. According to returns posted by the city Wednesday night, the more modest measure was leading 72 percent to 28 percent.
The vote reflects what’s been apparent for months around the country: While there’s widespread eagerness to raise the minimum wage, not all cities are ready to hike it as high as $15, the number being advocated by many labor groups and activists. Voters in Portland, Maine, also rejected a $15 proposal this week, sticking with a hike to $10.10 recently passed by their city council.
But without a campaign for $15, it’s not clear the minimum wage would have moved at all in Tacoma.
Tom Pierson, president of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, said support for a minimum wage hike was gathering momentum, so businesses wanted to develop an alternative to $15 that they could stomach. He said business owners felt an immediate hike to $15 from the current $9.47 would be too rash.
"There are two ways to be at the table -- sitting around it, or on the menu," Pierson told The Huffington Post. "By and large, our businesses weren't excited about raising the minimum wage. But faced with $15 overnight, the tone started to change in terms of what is workable, what would make sense, and how as a community we could move forward."
"We encouraged a compromise that works for everybody," Pierson added.
Members of the campaign that spearheaded the $15 initiative, 15 Now Tacoma, couldn't immediately be reached for comment. A supporter of the group noted on its Facebook page Wednesday, "If you hadn't pushed for $15, there would never have been an increase of any amount."
The $12 measure will raise the city’s minimum wage for all employers to $10.35 next February, then $11.15 in January 2017, and $12 in January 2018. After that, it will be adjusted each year according to the consumer price index. The $15 measure, on the other hand, would have been much swifter. As early as this December, the minimum wage would have been hiked to $15 in one swoop for businesses with annual sales of at least $300,000.
The wage floor in Washington state is $9.47 in any jurisdiction that doesn’t already mandate a higher one.
Washington has historically been on the leading edge of higher minimum wages. It was the first state to tie its rate to an inflation index, and for years it has boasted the highest minimum wage of any U.S. state. The city of SeaTac was the first in the country to pass a $15 minimum wage ordinance, and the much larger city of Seattle soon followed.
The federal minimum wage remains $7.25 per hour and hasn’t budged since 2009. Democrats in Congress have put forth various proposals to raise it, most notably a recent $12 measure, but Republicans have blocked them from moving forward.
The inaction on Capitol Hill has led to a growing hodgepodge of minimum wages around the country, with a majority of states now mandating one higher than the federal level. Meanwhile, large liberal cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco have proved willing to go as high as $15 per hour.