Minimum $15/hour wage discussion hits Burien City Council; plus, take our Poll
by Jack Mayne
It wasn’t on the agenda for the Burien City Council’s Monday (Aug. 11) special meeting agenda but it dominated the first three quarters of an hour of the nearly three-hour session.
There have been comments in the community and at some Council meetings that Burien might be next to increase the minimum wage in the city from the current state rate of $9.32 to the rate of $15 an hour for some workers in the City of SeaTac, and that the City Council of Seattle has approved $15 an hour to be implemented over a course that could take seven years.
Comments by one Council member during a city economic plan debate have indicated interest in increasing the wage. Several times newly elected Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz has indicated that since the city is surrounded by potential $15 minimum wages, so should Burien. But those discussions involved a general economic plan, not a specific one.
Usually three or four citizens turn out to comment either generally or before specific Council business issues, but Monday night saw several people, most advocating a $15 minimum wage. New for Council commentary was it was actively “tweeted” during the meeting on the Twitter account of Councilmember Berkowitz. She is apparently the only councilmember who uses the online social networking and micro-blogging system that allows users to send and read short 140-character text messages, called “tweets” from their laptop computers.
$15 or bust
Resident Al Alpert was the first of the pro $15 list who said he wanted an answer from every councilor: “Where do you stand on the minimum wage?”
He got no response from any member of the Council who, under their rules, do not respond to questions or comments at their meeting but do it later or have city research and respond.
Alpert said as a “former owner of a construction company … I have found that, contrary to what was just said, the higher the wage, the more the community prospers …”
Don Bennett brought the Council two out-of-state studies that support increase in the minimum wage.
Shortly after Bennett commented, Berkowitz sent out this Tweet:
“Resident Don Bennett speaks in support of raising the minimum wage in Burien.”
Then the Council heard city resident Keith Weir say he feels any city economic plan that was up for discussion at the special meeting should do “due diligence in respecting the workers that work and reside and own properties,” and said he did not work in Burien now but would like to if he could be paid what he gets elsewhere.
A group of members of the Highline Education Association executive board appeared to support a $15 per hour minimum wage increase, and were also commented on by Berkowitz’s Tweet:
“Highline Education Association president asks Burien to support raising the minimum wage.”
Sue McCabe, of Normandy Park and the current president of the association, said she hoped the Council would support the increase in the minimum wage to $15. “If we pay better, our residents are likely to stay longer,” she said.
Jeb Binns, a Highline Education Association board member and teacher at Highline High School said an increased minimum wage would permit parents to better provide and support their children in school and “will help improve the education in the City of Burien.”
Deborah Strayer, another board member and SeaTac resident, said she has family roots in Burien and a concern for the Highline students of the city and having parents be able to work a single job at $15 would be important for their children’s welfare.
Association member Sandra Hunt, who lives in Seattle and is a teacher at Highline High School, said residents of Burien have promised to support the goals of the district, and “one of the ways they can do that is to support the parents” by paying wages that would mean they did not have to work multiple jobs.
At one point during the meeting, Berkowitz Tweeted:
“Only 2 residents testify against raising minimum wage, one w/opinion articles and other requesting studies. Proposal simply requests a study.”
That was the case.
The first, even before the proponents, came from perennial Council commenter, Goodspaceguy, who once again said he advocates “the elimination of the minimum wage which is reducing the living standard.”
The only other opponent, much later in the discussion, was another Council commenting regular, Chestine Edgar, who provided the Council with a copy of an article that she says suggests billionaire Seattle businessman Nick Hanauer, the co-founder and partner in Second Avenue Partners, created the $15 minimum wage number. She said the article revealed he did not use economic studies but “a number he picked out of the air.”
Edgar said there is not a lot a research on rapidly increasing incomes.
“One myth I would like to dispel is that Burien is a city surrounded by cities that pay $15 an hour,” Edgar said. “It is not. Des Moines, Normandy Park, Kent, Tukwila, White Center, the unincorporated areas, the Port (of Seattle) currently, Renton and Federal Way do not pay $15 an hour. Burien has lost 2,000 jobs from 2007 to 2012.”
Ed Dacy of Burien wants a study. He said more enforcement is needed to “get people up to the current minimum wage.” Dacy said he was told “by a small sample of five people” in SeaTac that the increase to $15 there resulted in their hours being cut so their income remained the same and converted from overtime to straight time. He suggested a “good survey” on whether people in SeaTac are ahead or behind after the wage hike of some workers there.
What do YOU think? Please take our Poll below:
Council likes itself, but …
At the outset of Monday’s session, new City Manager Kamuron Gurol led an exercise in gauging how the Council looks upon itself.
Gurol asked the Council members to list comments on how the Council is doing and what could be changed, then he asked each Councilor to tell one of a list of what they thought.
Mayor Lucy Krakowiak said, “I like how City Council members are passionate about Burien and bringing diverse views to the meeting,” but she said she would hold up on what could be changed.
Deputy Mayor Bob Edgar said he liked “that all Council members are engaged in our meetings and wish we had more time between out Council meetings,” apparently referring to the increased number of long and special meetings of late.
Councilmember Nancy Tosta said she liked “being able to have frank discussions in our meetings, recognizing that we disagree but not personalizing it. I wish we could trust each other enough to agree to let those who want to work on issues outside of Council do so and bring it back to Council.”
Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz said, “Like the mayor, I like the passion that councilmembers display for our city and I wish we would spend more time as a Council turning our new members to our meetings.”
Councilmember Gerald Robison said he liked the “quality of the discussion in the meetings and wish we had healthy snacks or pizza at the meetings,” a joke on recent light-hearted banter at a special session.
Two councilmembers attended by telephone.
Councilmember Steve Armstrong said he liked “the energy” of meetings and his change would be to see “more done in a shorter meeting time.” Most meetings, special and regular, have lasted a full three hours.
Councilmember Debi Wagner said she liked “the large amount of varied experience, skills and challenges that each member of the Council brings to the Council. I wish that we could pool our strengths together and agree on tasks that make Burien better without using each of our passions to push our own agenda.”
More on Council’s deliberations on a discussion on draft economic development goals and actions and discussion of information related to Burien Community Animal Resource and Education Society (CARES) to come…