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How Seattle Agreed to a $15 Minimum Wage Without a Fight

Seattle’s mayor reaches a tentative deal for a citywide pay raise
How Seattle Agreed to a $15 Minimum Wage Without a Fight
Illustration by Joren Cull

On May 1, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced he had brokered a deal to raise the city’s minimum wage for all workers from $9.32 to $15 an hour, the highest in the country. That in itself was remarkable. Even more so was that Murray did it without the anger and political bloodshed that’s pitted employers against workers in other cities and has stalled efforts in Congress to increase the federal minimum wage. In what may be a model for other cities and states, Murray put business leaders, union bosses, and community advocates in a room for months with simple instructions: work out your differences, or else.

The “or else” was that Murray and the city council would do it without them. He had the political momentum to back up the threat. When Murray, a Democrat, took office in January, the region seemed ready for a minimum pay bump. Voters in a small town to Seattle’s south, SeaTac, passed a measure to raise wages for transportation and hospitality workers to $15 an hour. Seattle elected a socialist to the city council on a living wage platform. Rather than push his own proposal through the city council, or risk outside groups bringing ballot initiatives that would likely turn ugly and draw the attention of special interest money, he appointed a 24-member group to reach an agreement. “If you want people to get here in the end, you need to bring them to the table,” he says.