City Officials from Coast to Coast Strategize About Raising the Minimum Wage to Revive the National Economy

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"Local Progress" Symposium in Seattle Brings Officials from Eight of the Nation's Largest Cities Together to Discuss Income Inequality and the Minimum Wage (News Source: Center for Popular Democracy)

Local leaders and their constituents are tired of watching middle class jobs disappear as Washington, DC, stands idle.

Elected officials from eight of the nation’s largest cities – New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle – came together in Seattle last week to strategize about how their cities can revive the national economy and combat income inequality by raising the minimum wage.

The nation is in the midst of a national debate about minimum wage legislation and Seattle is at the epicenter of that debate, considering a bold increase to $15 per hour for all workers.

The Symposium on Income Inequality was hosted by the office of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray; Seattle University; and Local Progress, the national municipal policy network that is staffed by the Center for Popular Democracy.

“Local leaders and their constituents are tired of watching middle class jobs disappear as Washington, DC, stands idle,” said Andrew Friedman, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy and board member of Local Progress. “That’s why cities across America are taking action on the local level to protect workers and grow the economy – including paid sick days, minimum wage increases, wage theft prevention, and worker support. And it’s why connecting leaders from around the country to discuss innovation, through networks like Local Progress, is so important.”

The elected officials who travelled to Seattle for the strategy session are members of Local Progress, the new network of progressive elected officials from around the country committed to a strong economy, equal justice, livable cities, and effective government. The network’s primary goals are to connect progressive elected officials to each other, provide policy and research support, and encourage national progressive change through local action.

“Local progress is in a unique position in sponsoring the first city national gathering to promote minimum wages as the top priority for city councils,” said Nick Licata, the Seattle City Councilmember and national chair of Local Progress. “We're going to get to $15 per hour in Seattle and expect to see other cities around the country do the same.”

Last week, the city of Richmond, CA set the nation’s highest minimum wage, at $12.30, and now Chicago, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle are considering increases of up to $15.

The momentum in city councils across the country has been driven by low-wage workers who have walked off the job at McDonald’s, Walmart, and other major corporations that are enjoying record profits while their employees struggle to make ends meet.

Demanding “fifteen and a union,” the workers have reshaped the national conversation and are starting to see elected officials who are responsive to their demands: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray defeated the incumbent last November on a platform that included increasing the minimum wage to $15; he was joined by city councilmember Kshama Sawant, who has pushed the debate in Seattle left.

“If Seattle passes a minimum wage of $15 per hour, we're going to have a huge battle in Chicago, and across the country,” said Chicago Alderman Toni Foulkes. “It's going to be exciting.” Chicago is considering a minimum wage of $15 per hour for major employers like McDonald’s and Walmart.

“What is happening in Seattle is inspiring to us in Chicago,” said Chicago Alderman John Arena, who helps lead the City Council’s new progressive caucus. “Wage inequality is an enormous barrier to Chicago’s and the nation’s ability to return to economic prosperity.”

“The minimum wage movement is a perfect example of how cities can lead the way to a more robust and fair economy,” said Local Progress board member, San Diego City Councilmember David Alvarez, who is planning to sponsor a high city-wide minimum wage and paid sick days law this year. “The momentum in cities is changing America. If we can improve the quality of jobs in San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, and San Jose, then we will change the entire national political dialogue.”

San Francisco passed the country’s first municipal minimum wage back in 2003 and “the sky hasn’t fallen,” said Local Progress board member, San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos. In fact, restaurant and other businesses have grown faster than in surrounding countries. Now Avalos is collaborating with community based groups and progressive unions to pass a $15 minimum wage this year.

Attendees included:

  •     National Chair of Local Progress, Seattle Councilmember Nick Licata
  •     Chicago Alder John Arena, Chicago Alder Toni Foulkes, Chicago Alder Roderick Sawyer
  •     New York City Councilmember Ritchie Torres
  •     Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks
  •     Philadelphia Councilmember Wilson Goode, Jr.
  •     San Diego Councilmember David Alvarez
  •     San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos
  •     San Jose Councilmember Don Rocha

Speakers included: Lori Pfingst, Center for Budget and Policy; Dorian Warren, Columbia University; Paul Sonn, National Employment Law Project; Michael Reich and Ken Jacobs, U.C. Berkeley; and Marieka Klawitter and Bob Plotnik, University of Washington.

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