The Seattle City Council took an historic step yesterday toward beating back income inequality and improving the lives of workers.  On a vote of 9-0, the Council approved an ordinance that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour after an adjustment period.

The vote came after an intense two-hour debate, during which workers and labor activists urged the Council to strengthen the ordinance.  Councilmember Kshama Sawant introduced amendments that would have sped up implementation, removed tip credit language, and eliminated a sub-minimum wage for youth and the disabled, but her bids were summarily rejected by a majority of the Council.

But even without these fortifying measures, the ordinance remains a tremendous victory for workers.  Seattle can now claim the highest minimum wage in the country.  Effective April 1 of 2015, thousands of low-wage workers will see increases in their take home pay.  The new law means that fewer workers will have to rely on public assistance, and more working families will have the resources to pay the rent, send their kids to the doctor, and put food on the table.

Throughout the process, members of Teamsters 117 have been vocal supporters for increasing the minimum wage.  We have participated in the planning of events, met with councilmembers and the mayor, emailed and called our representatives, and helped forge the $15 For Seattle coalition, an alliance of labor and community groups aimed at building a stronger, more just society for workers.

We have been involved in the fight for $15 for good reason.  A $15/hr minimum wage will directly impact Local 117 members in the parking and steel industries in Seattle.  Hundreds of Teamster members will benefit from the new law.   A higher minimum wage will boost the local economy by putting more money in people’s pockets.  Workers will have more disposable income to spend at local grocery stores, restaurants, and small businesses.  Local 117 members in other industries will benefit as well.  With a higher floor, we can now make a much stronger case for negotiating higher wages for all of our members. 

This victory couldn't have been possible without workers banding together and taking action to demand change.  Brave fast food workers at McDonalds and other chains around the country went on strike to protest low wages.  Baggage handlers, fuelers, wheelchair pushers, parking attendants and others in and around Sea-Tac Airport spoke out against their poverty wages and in favor a fair day’s pay.

With CEO earnings skyrocketing to 257 times the average worker, this vote marks an important shift in an economic landscape that has benefited the 1% at the expense of workers.  Now, more workers can gain a foothold into the middle class and realize our society’s promise – that we can build better, more secure lives for ourselves and our children.