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Seattle considers $15 base wage law

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By Reuters
Thursday, May 1, 2014, 8:03 p.m.

SEATTLE — Mayor Ed Murray announced a plan on Thursday to raise the minimum wage in Seattle to $15 per hour during three to seven years, making it the first major American city to commit to such a high base level of pay.

The plan is the product of a committee convened by the mayor, including labor and business leaders, that spent 16 weeks negotiating a compromise deal. It must be approved by the city council before it becomes binding on employers.

Under the terms of the plan, small businesses with fewer than 500 workers must raise wages to a minimum of $15 per hour during the next seven years. Those with more than 500 workers must meet that level within three years.

Once the $15 level is reached, further rises will be linked to cost of living increases, said Murray, a Democrat who took office in January with a $15 minimum-wage law as one of his administration's objectives.

Seattle is leading the way in a nationwide Democratic-led push to raise minimum wages. Seattle suburb SeaTac last year approved an initiative enacting a $15 minimum wage for many workers, although airport employees were later excluded.

President Obama has pushed Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25, but has failed to win the backing of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The long lead-in time for implementation of the Seattle wage measure appears in part to be a compromise to placate businesses that had wanted to count tips and employer contributions for health care benefits toward the wage target.

Murray's plan gives big businesses that offer health care benefits an extra year — four years instead of three — to meet the wage benchmark, an issue that has stirred intense debate among employers in Seattle during the past few months.

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