- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - As the Seattle City Council began on Thursday to debate Mayor Ed Murray’s plan to increase the minimum wage in the city, tensions are growing between labor and business groups.

Despite an agreement already in place, some business groups are lobbying for more changes, which irked labor representatives. The minimum wage plan, forged after five months of negotiations among labor, employers and nonprofit representatives in an advisory committee, appeared to have broad support when it was revealed earlier this month.

The plan gives businesses with more than 500 employees nationally at least three years to phase in the increase. Those providing health insurance will have four years to complete the move. Smaller organizations will be given seven years, including a consideration for tips and health-care costs over the first five years of the phase-in.

But now, business groups are pushing for a training wage, a longer phase-in for nonprofits of any size, and no minimum-wage increase for employers with less than 10 employees. Their proposals were expressed in a letter prepared by City Council staff.

Labor representatives from the advisory committee responded to these proposals in their letter sent to the City Council. They said the council should pass the plan already approved. They also expressed discontent that City Council staff prepared the business-friendly proposals, saying that the staff should have included worker-friendly proposals.

“If the Council intends to consider different options, we would expect it to consider pro-worker options supported by the public and not only employer friendly options. That said, we want to be clear that we believe the mayor’s compromise proposal remains the best way forward,” the letter said.

The letter outlined a few “pro-worker” changes, including not counting tips toward compensation, shortening phase-ins and eliminating training wages.

David Freiboth, executive director of the King County Labor Council, said he expected tweaks to the advisory plan as it moved to the City Council, but not attempts to make what he called “fundamental” changes to it.

Last week, Murray said he’d support a training wage for individuals “whose earning capacity is impaired by physical or mental deficiency” and for “qualified registered apprenticeship programs and student earner programs.”

City Councilmember Sally Clark acknowledged that both sides are lobbying the council about increasing the minimum wage.

“Yeah, there’s lobbying going on. Meetings with labor people and business people. That’s what we get paid to do,” quipped Clark as Thursday’s minimum wage committee meeting began.

If anything, this week’s flare-ups are highlighting that the minimum wage debate in Seattle is far from over. The City Council still has a series of meetings left before it votes. The possibility of a fight in the November ballot also looms.

But a ballot initiative is still something that many in the minimum wage debate don’t want to see.

“There are a progressive elements in the business community. They’re concerned as we are for an initiative war tearing this town apart,” Freiboth said.


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