Northwest News

Tacoma mayor picks Minimum Wage Task Force members

Business owners, labor leaders and even a high school student made the cut for the Tacoma Minimum Wage Task Force.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland announced the formation of the task force last week, a day after the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber wrote her a letter to ask for a “right-sized local solution” to raising the minimum wage in Tacoma. Tuesday, she announced the group’s membership.

The group is intended to counter a proposed ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 a hour. The activist group 15 Now has been collecting signatures since last year to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

The 15 Now proposal would raise the minimum wage to $15 immediately. Strickland’s task force is expected to examine a more gradual increase.

Members of the 15 Now group had called on the city to appoint one of their own. Strickland said one of the appointees, Elizabeth Lewis, has identified herself as a 15 Now member. Lewis, in an interview last year with King 5 said she worked two minimum-wage jobs and supported the push for a $15 minimum wage.

A 15 Now volunteer told the council Tuesday he was satisfied with the diversity of the appointees.

“I am pleased you are paying attention to us because we tried very hard to get your attention six months ago,” Alan “Oldstudent” Stancliff said. “You can be sure we are going to look at what comes out (of the task force) very carefully, and so will the citizens of Tacoma.”

In October, 15 Now presented 1,000 signatures to the City Council, and members of the group asked for a minimum-wage increase throughout the fall.

The mayor initially identified Gregory Christopher, a pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in Hilltop, as another member of 15 Now. Sarah Morken, a leader of 15 Now, said Christopher is not a member of the group but she is happy with his selection.

Many in his congregation are low income, Morken said. “He will do a good job representing those people. They are the people who will most benefit from raising the minimum wage.”

Among the other members named Tuesday are Lincoln High School student Abranna Romero Rocha, two union officials, six business members, three heads of local nonprofits and Ali Modarres, director of the Urban Studies at University of Washington Tacoma.

City Council members were able to select one person each for the Task Force with the rest picked by Strickland. The mayor had originally suggested the city pick 13 members, but the list released Tuesday named 15 members and two alternates.

Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber CEO Tom Pierson said Wednesday that whatever the group comes up with will be better than the 15 Now legislation, which is “clearly too extreme.”

“It’s great that (the task force is) a cross section of our community, who will talk about what minimum wage in Tacoma will look like, instead of an outside group coming in and telling employees and employers what’s best for Tacoma,” Pierson said.

The council also approved a $30,000 contract with a facilitator to guide the task force’s work. Strickland said the facilitator will talk with each task force member before scheduling the first task force meeting. The group’s work must be completed by June 30 to give the council time to put an issue on the fall ballot.

“This is a very ambitious and aggressive time line,” Strickland said.

Washington state’s minimum wage is the highest in the nation at $9.47 per hour, although a few cities throughout the country have adopted higher minimum wages. Seattle workers are seeing higher minimum wages, which are being phased in over several years. SeaTac’s $15 minimum wage for hotel and transportation workers has been in effect for more than a year.

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