Income Inequality Advisory Committee

Facilitating agreement on a new minimum wage policy

Challenge

In the early 2010s, Seattle’s burgeoning high-tech and life-sciences sectors were creating thousands of well-paying jobs. But the city was rapidly becoming unaffordable for service sector workers, middle class families, students and immigrants. In 2014, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray made it a priority to spur wage increases for Seattle’s minimum wage workers so that those at all wage levels could continue to live in the city. To do so would require labor, business interests and community leaders to reach agreement on a plan acceptable to all.

The mayor appointed an Income Inequality Advisory Committee made up of 24 representatives of labor, chambers of commerce, small and large businesses, nonprofits, and philanthropy. The mayor tasked the committee with developing actionable recommendations for increasing the minimum wage in Seattle to $15 per hour. Cedar River Group was hired to facilitate this advisory committee.

Solution

Cedar River Group worked with the advisory committee’s two co-chairs to plan the meetings and develop agenda topics. We conducted phone interviews with each committee member to understand their interests and concerns. We helped the committee reach agreement on ground rules, facilitated their meetings, and helped guide their consideration of options for a new minimum wage policy and the potential impacts of those options.

A major issue was reaching agreement on the timeframe for putting a minimum wage increase into effect. The committee represented such a wide variety of perspectives among employers, workers, unions and advocates that finding solutions was challenging. Resolving the issues required our team to have considerable between-meeting communication with committee members, and to facilitate smaller negotiating subcommittees to help spark members’ creativity in developing solutions.

Results

The advisory committee reached a strong consensus to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, phased in from 2015 to 2025. The committee agreed on an implementation schedule featuring stepped wage increases that varied by both the businesses’ size and whether the employees received health care benefits and/or tips, along with wages. The agreement also ties the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index once $15 is reached.

The mayor accepted the advisory committee’s consensus plan and transmitted a formal proposal to the Seattle City Council. The Council passed legislation in June 2014, which went into effect on April 1, 2015.

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