Local 46’s Fight for Seattle Minimum Wage Increase
June 27, 2014
Councilmember Kshama Sawant (left) and Executive Director of Certified Electric Workers of Washington Nicole Grant at Sawant’s swearing-in ceremony, in Seattle on January 6, 2014.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo used with permission from Nicole Grant.
When the Seattle City Council started considering proposals to raise the city’s minimum wage, Seattle Local 46 knew it was their duty to step right up to help.
“Most of us [IBEW members] make more than $15 an hour,” said Nicole Grant, Local 46 member and executive director of the Certified Electric Workers of Washington, which advocates on behalf of electrical workers statewide. “But as we became involved in this campaign we realized ultimately we are responsible – nobody else is going to look out for the middle class except the union workers.”
Local 46 was the first local union to endorse the grassroots movement 15 Now, a publicly-funded campaign to raise the minimum wage and empower workers. It was launched in January and led by Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who was supported by Local 46 in her successful run for the post last November.
In the six months since the 15 Now kickoff in January, members of Local 46 have participated in the March for 15 walk on March 15, lent their stories and voices to countless campaign calls, garnered crucial support from other local unions and even joined in a human chain around city council in a display of united support for the minimum wage hike. On June 2, Local 46 and the community saw their efforts rewarded, and celebrated the unanimous city council vote in favor of the $15 minimum wage.
“Our members were really active and inspired by this,” said Angela Marshall, PAC secretary-treasurer of Local 46. “We want to live in a community where workers are treated fairly and work under positive working conditions.”
The issue struck close to home for union members. Although the state of Washington has the highest state-wide minimum wage at $9.32, the city of Seattle has long suffered from the same gap of inequality that exists in most cities in the United States: workers’ wages are much lower than the cost of living, which limits the financial growth of the entire middle class. Closing this gap doesn’t just affect minimum wage workers, but benefits the rest of the community as well.
“When you fuel the economy, that spurs on the flow of work for our members, so that in turn helps our members get work – and when we get more work for our members, that helps us raise wages for our workers,” Marshall said.
Seattle’s minimum wage increase, now the highest in the nation, is expected to affect over 100,000 workers city-wide. Its phase-in plan will have all city workers in large businesses guaranteed $15 an hour within four years, and small businesses within seven.
Seattle is just the beginning. Local unions all over the country are supporting living wage campaigns in cities like Chicago and New York, and San Francisco has already started its own business-backed proposal for a $15 minimum wage.
Grant emphasized how critical it is for union activists to get involved: “If it’s not a union’s job to lift up the working poor, then whose job is it?”