About a half dozen people stood Wednesday morning along West Court Street in Pasco to call for a raise in the minimum wage.
They were among thousands of people nationwide, including in Washington state, who are expected to participate in demonstrations Wednesday pushing for higher minimum wages.
Seattle set a precedent when it became, last summer, the first large city to set a $15 minimum wage goal. Since then, other cities around the country have passed their own minimum wage laws.
In Washington, even as a bill for a higher statewide minimum wage of $12 stalled in the Legislature this session, activists are pushing cities to raise the wage floor, as Seattle as done.
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Tacoma appears to be the closest to putting a minimum wage measure to a vote. But advocates in Olympia, Spokane and other cities are pushing too.
Adding visibility to their efforts will be the series of rallies Wednesday morning planned for Spokane, Yakima, Pasco, Olympia, and at Sea-Tac airport.
Then, Wednesday afternoon, workers including Uber drivers, department-store employees, homecare workers and others are expected to participate in a series of rallies in different locations around Seattle.
In Tacoma, advocates for a $15 minimum wage are gathering signatures to get a citizen’s initiative before the city council or on the ballot this fall.
The measure they’ve proposed is more aggressive than Seattle’s, requiring all businesses with annual gross revenue of $300,000 or more to pay their workers at least $15 an hour. The initiative, if approved, could take effect around the first of the year. A cost-of-living adjustment, tied to the inflation rate, would kick in each year afterward.
Initiative backers say they’ve already gathered more than 3,800 signatures, and have a goal of getting 5,000 before the early June deadline.
If they get all of the 3,160 valid signatures needed, the initiative goes before the city council, which may enact it but can’t modify it. If the council rejects or takes no action on it, it goes on the November ballot.
Tom Pierson, president and CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, believes there’s little chance that the city council will pass the measure, so it’s likely to go on the fall ballot.
He objects to the measure on several fronts.
“I feel like we’re putting the Seattle solution in Tacoma, which doesn’t work,” Pierson said. “Our economy isn’t Seattle’s.”
At the same time, the measure calls for a much shorter timeline to get to $15 than Seattle does.
Seattle’s law, which kicked April 1, has a faster track for large businesses with more than 5,000 employees. Those businesses are expected to pay employees $15 an hour by 2018 at the latest. Smaller businesses have until 2021 at the latest.
“If this wasn’t so dramatic – going from $9.47 to $15 overnight,” Pierson said of the proposed Tacoma measure. Not knowing if the initiative will get on the ballot or win approval means it’s hard for businesses to plan their expenses for the next couple of years, he said.
Pierson also objects to the $300,000 gross revenue bar, which he believes means that practically every business will be subject to the provisions.
“To be under that, it would probably be someone who sells Tupperware part-time out of their house,” he said.
But Sarah Morken, a volunteer with 15 Now Tacoma, says, “We’ve been here for a year and a half. We’ve been begging people to come to the table and help us write this. Where were they?”
While she acknowleges paying workers $15 an hour may not be painless, “It’s a social justice issue. If people base their businesses on poverty level wages, that’s not right.”
The city of Olympia also appears open to discussing an increase in minimum wage.
“It’s a place where we have that same kind of combination (as in Seattle) of workers taking action, sympathetic elected officials and strong public support,” said Wilson of Working Washington.
While’s there’s no proposal before the city council, there’s been discussion about taking a look at sick leave and minimum wage laws.
The effort there is just begnning, said Jim Cooper, an Olympia City Councilmember.
About 80 percent of the businesses in Olympia have less than 10 employees, he said, adding that “we need to make sure we plan for that if we have a policy discussion.”
“Generally, I’m in favor of $15 an hour and 7 days of safe and sick leave,” Cooper said. “What I don’t know is if that’s the exact right number for Olympia. I want ot make sure we don’t have just an arbitrary number.”
Traction appears tougher in Bellevue, where fast food workers and their allies staged a march last fall and where they had initially hoped to expand the $15 minimum wage movement.
It’s not an issue that the mayor or city council has taken up, nor is it on any future council agenda.
“We’ve not been hearing from our residents or businesses on the topic,” said Emily Christensen, a spokeswoman for the City of Bellevue. “There’s not an onset of emails or people coming to talk about it at our council meetings.”