In the above photo, Starbucks barista Autumn Brown is inking one of the first signatures on 15 Now's petition for a November ballot initiative. If all goes as planned, those clipboards will have 20,000 names added to them in less than two weeks.
"I believe that with all the hard work and dedication and time and energy that I've put into this job, I deserve to have health insurance, go to school and educate myself, and to pay my rent at the same time. And I need that now—and not in 2025," Brown said after she signed up.
Why the rush to get 20,000 signatures so fast? The petitions (a minimum of 30,000 signatures) aren't due to the city clerk's office until mid-July to advance the ballot process. 15 Now activists said they're trying to exert pressure on the Seattle City Council, whose members are wrangling over how to raise the minimum wage as you read this and could be voting on Mayor Ed Murray's minimum wage proposal around the end of the month.
"The mayor's proposal is a step forward, but it falls short of what workers need by adding unnecessary delays of 3, 5, or even 10 years before getting up to an inflation adjusted $15," said Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, who added the first signature to the initiative. Casa Latina's Hilary Stern was the second signer. The plan raises wages to $15 per hour for all large businesses immediately and provides a three-year phase in for small businesses and nonprofits (defined as 250 employees or less, instead of 500).
"I'm putting forward amendments to the mayor's proposal to close these corporate loopholes," Sawant continued. "But if the majority of the city council sides with big business, we have the back-up option of letting the voters decide in November."
James Parker, a teacher and 15 Now supporter who within a half hour had gathered six signatures from passers-by, is confident they can hit the 20k mark. Canvassers will fan out at the UW Street Fair this weekend and Folk Life Festival next weekend, he told me.
As Anna reported, the latest polling on the minimum wage suggests a reservoir of public support for 15 Now's plan, one that was echoed in an informal poll of downtown pedestrians who stopped to see what the hubbub was all about. One man told me he works multiple part-time jobs and needs a raise, and he promptly signed the ballot initiative. Another, Roy Cottingham, was on lunch break at a nearby McDonald's. He said he's worked for low wages for years at the Bed Bath And Beyond down the block. He swiftly put down his order tray and signed, he said, because he struggles to earn enough to pay rent on his $850 single-room apartment in Magnolia.
- MICHAEL DIXON "The reality is even in the tech industry, wages are going down."
Forty-year-old Michael Dixon, a software engineer with a UW computer science degree, had just come from a job interview nearby. He's been trying to make ends meet with intermittent contract work for Microsoft. But he's been "priced out" of Seattle he explained, recently moving from Upper Queen Anne to Burien, where rent is cheaper. "It's not a bad area," he said—but now he has to commute by bus into the city.
Dixon identifies as a Democrat, but he strongly prefers the 15 Now proposal to Mayor Murray's. "I might have to consider a job like this," he said, pointing to McDonald's, unless he finds work soon. "Even though we're in a technology-driven town, it's still difficult. I believe that people need action now. Most corporations do things immediately—you don't see price changes being phased in. They happen now."