SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Monday that gradually increases the minimum wage in the city to $15, which would make it the highest in the nation.
The issue has dominated politics in the liberal municipality for months, and a boisterous crowd of mostly labor activists packed the council chambers for the vote. Mayor Ed Murray, who was elected last year, had promised in his campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. A newly elected socialist council member also had pushed the idea.
"We did it. Workers did this," said Kshama Sawant, the socialist council member. "We need to continue to build an even more powerful movement."
Council member Tom Rasmussen said, "Seattle wants to stop the race to the bottom in wages" and address the "widening gap between the rich and the poor."
The measure, which would take effect on April 1, includes a phase-in of the wage increase over several years, with a slower process for small businesses. The plan gives businesses with more than 500 employees nationally at least three years to phase in the increase. Those providing health insurance will have four years to do so. Smaller organizations will be given seven years.
The International Franchise Association, a Washington, D.C.-based business group that represents franchise owners, said it plans to sue to stop the ordinance. "The City Council's action today is unfair, discriminatory and a deliberate attempt to achieve a political agenda at the expense of small franchise business owners," the group said in a statement.
The ordinance came from recommendations made by an advisory group of labor, business and nonprofit representatives convened by Murray.
Although some local businesses have come out in support of the measure, a group of restaurant owners oppose it, saying it would force them to scuttle expansion plans, decrease hiring and possibly cut service hours.
Nick Musser, executive chef and general manager of the Icon Grill in downtown Seattle, finds the differentiation between large and big companies irrelevant.
"The reality is that the larger companies are going to ratchet up their wages and we're going to have to play at that level anyway," said Musser, whose restaurant employs 50 to 60 people.
San Francisco currently has the nation's highest hourly minimum wage at $10.74. The current minimum wage in Washington state is $9.32 an hour.
This year Minnesota raised the state's guaranteed wage by more than $3, to $9.50, by 2016. California, Connecticut and Maryland also have passed laws increasing their respective wages to $10 or more in coming years.