Mayor Murray at the "Ask the Mayor" forum on March 25.
Last week, Mayor Ed Murray sat down for an "Ask the Mayor" session at City Hall, a televised event where the public was welcome to get up to a microphone and ask him whatever they'd like. Part of the event was set aside specifically for a discussion of the minimum wage, and he got a little feisty during that conversation when Jess Spear, organizing director for 15 Now, asked him about his history of supporting a tip credit in Olympia. A tip credit, if you haven't been following this debate, is a lower wage for tipped workers, where their tips from customers can be counted by their employer to make up the rest of the wage. Nationally, the minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour to non-tipped workers' wage of $7.25 an hour; Washington State is among just a handful of states without a lower wage for tipped workers.
Spear started her question to Murray by mentioning that he had supported legislation instating a lower wage for tipped workers, a position 15 Now and many activists are strongly against, while he was a state legislator in Olympia. "So I ask you where you stand on tip credit," she asked Murray. "Have you changed your position, or are you going to be bringing tip credit to Seattle?"
That's what set up this testy exchange with the mayor (you can watch a video of their interaction right here):
MURRAY: So first of all, what year did I support that? SPEAR: 2002. MURRAY: Actually, you're wrong. It was in the 1990s. SPEAR: Well, have you changed your position now? MURRAY: No, it was in 1996. You know who else supported it from Seattle? Representative Kip Tokuda and Representative Sharon Tomiko-Santos—between us, at the time, probably the three most liberal members of the house. Do you know why we supported it? Because we had a lot of immigrant restaurants who were struggling, and we had a lot of people in the back of the house, dishwashers, where were were—the tip credit idea was we would make a deal that the back of the house would get part of that or they would get health care. And it didn't happen. And we withdrew our support, as I said, in 1997. It's interesting this issue keeps coming up. If folks want to change politicians' minds, then when their minds change, you should support them. But you should also understand why they did it. So: I have been clear since 1997 that I do not support a tip credit.
Except there's one problem with Murray's defense: He co-sponsored a tip-credit bill in 2001. You can see it right here, House Bill 1973, which directed the department of labor and industries to "establish an adjusted minimum tipped wage rate that is equal to seventy-five percent of the adjusted minimum wage... but no less than six dollars and seventy-two cents per hour."
HB 1973 was introduced in 2001 and again in 2002. So he may feel like he's "been clear" about his stance since 1997, but he was signing on to legislation supporting tip credits in 2002—which is exactly what Spear said.
Look, 2001 was a long time ago, he just got the date wrong, and it sounds like his position has changed. But maybe it's better not to scold activists when you're wrong, huh?
He finished his answer by saying that a "tip credit," per se, is off the table in Seattle because it's for the state to decide, but that his advisory committee is still discussing "total compensation"—which, many business owners argue, should include workers' tips. It could also, as Dominic explained here, include health care benefits, retirement contributions, etc. "I'm going to wait and see what this task force comes out with," he finished.
So whether he supports counting tips toward fulfillment of the minimum wage appears to still be very much on the table.