$15 minimum wage debate coming to Burien

By Eric Mathison

The $15 minimum wage debate is spreading to Burien.

At the urging of Burien City Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz, language has been added to the city’s proposed economic development strategic plan that calls for studies on reducing economic disparity.

The language specifically names paid sick leave, minimum wage and “other compensation concerns.”

Voters in neighboring SeaTac narrowly passed an ordinance mandating a $15 per hour minimum wage and other benefits for some airport-related jobs. The ordinance is being appealed in court.

In nearby Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray has proposed gradually raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Burien lawmakers have not directly debated the issue, opting on May 5 by a 5-2 vote to take discussion and possible approval of the strategic economic development plan off the agenda.

Councilmember Nancy Tosta made the motion, noting she had not seen proposed plan changes until Thursday, May 1.

Some are significantly different,” Tosta said. “I need time to digest them. If the council is going to own the plan, I want more time. There are implications to the changes.”

Tosta suggested a special session to discuss the changes.

Councilmember Debi Wagner was more blunt.

“You are imposing things on Burien businesses that may not be good,” Wagner declared. “I did not agree to the scope of the language on minimum wage and sick leave. They may not be sustainable for business.”

Berkowitz argued that the changes were not significant.

“It only changes that workers are invited to participate when businesses are invited,” Berkowitz countered.

She characterized the motion to remove the item from discussion as “another chance to derail workers’ participation.”

Berkowitz noted several members of the public were in the audience to comment on the changes.

“You can decide not to pass the plan tonight but we should discuss it,” Berkowitz said.

Mayor Lucy Krakowiak, Deputy Mayor Bob Edgar, Councilmember Steve Armstrong, Tosta and Wagner voted to remove the item from the agenda. Councilmember Gerald Robison and Berkowitz voted against the motion.

The proposed new language says, “City contracts shall prioritize Project Labor Agreements and Local Workforce Agreements on City contracts ensuring city money stays local and supports living wage jobs.”

The new language also stipulates that when city officials meet with Highline School District administrators to discuss improving education quality, teacher union representatives must also be included.

As significant as what was added was what was deleted.

A previous section notes cities should not directly try to reduce prevailing wages but adds, “They can, however, potentially affect wages indirectly by increasing productivity (through actions in education and training) or by increasing the non-wage benefits that workers get by living and working in a place with high quality of life which allows employers, in theory, to offer lower wages.”

That section was struck out.

Also removed was language that said the Seattle mayor’s efforts to raise his city’s minimum wage “illustrates the difference between the broad and narrow definition of economic development between short run and long run.”

Not only did the lawmakers delay their discussion on the economic development plan, they also decided to postpone the public forum on the subject tentatively scheduled for June 21 at the Burien Community Center.

The forum will be rescheduled for September.

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