Olympian minimum wage workers used the public comment period of the May 17, 2016 City Council meeting to conduct Working Washington’s First-Ever Poetry Slam, according to Nicholas Hefling, an organizer for Working Washington. This prompted two council members to respond with their own pro-minimum-wage poetry.
Council member Jessica Bateman did not bust a rhyme, but she said she could relate to the speakers, having herself once been a minimum wage worker in the service industry.
If you’re keeping score, that’s two poets and a former barista serving on the Olympia City Council. There’s definitely a core group of support for a minimum wage ordinance – or at least for putting it on the ballot.
Olympia in Exploratory Stages of Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave
As far back as 2014, the City’s finance and general government committees began discussing the minimum wage and other issues, like paid sick leave and predictive work scheduling, that affect the private workplace.
Council member Jim Cooper said he looks forward to Olympia resolving minimum wage, paid sick leave, and predictive work scheduling. He pointed out that the City’s Finance Committee will begin studying the financial impacts of citywide workplace ordinances at the next Committee meeting, which is scheduled for June 8, 2016.
It is Councilman Cooper, in fact, leading the charge from the dais for a citywide minimum wage. His proposal includes a phased-in minimum wage phased that would land at $15 per hour in two years for large employers and four years for small employers – an important consideration seeing as 80 percent of Olympia’s businesses have fewer than 10 employees.. His proposal also includes paid sick, predictive work scheduling, and minimum rest periods between work shifts.
But Will Olympians Go for a City Minimum Wage Law?
Yes. A minimum wage initiative in Olympia has the supporters and the national organizing force to drive the minimum wage into law.
Let’s do the math.
IF Hefling’s data is accurate – that 17,000 Olympian workers would benefit from a $15 minimum wage – then those workers account for 45% of the adult population (i.e. voting age) of Olympia. That’s 45 percent of people who have a vested interest in showing up at the polls to vote in favor of a minimum wage ballot initiative. Let’s presume a majority of them turn up to vote. Let’s say their social media posts motivate the occasional family member or other Olympian residents to get out and vote.
They have the emotive appeal and the appeal for economic justice on their side, and pro-business arguments are going to sound like hate speech in the face of gut-wrenching personal accounts of choosing whether to eat or to pay the electric bill, as were expressed during the May 17 session.
Plus they are backed by a who’s who of organized pro-labor groups, like the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Fight for 15, and, of course, Working Washington.
And if a ballot initiative isn’t on the table, that same 45 percent will get out to vote for candidates who could implement a minimum wage ordinance.
Ultimately, the Olympia City Council will bend to the will of their constituents. (Constituents is a fancy way of saying voters, by the way.) What do the constituents think? Sixty-nine percent of “likely voters” polled responded in a 2015 survey that they would support a $15 per hour minimum wage.
In fact, one local employer, the Olympia Food Co-op already adopted its own $15 per hour starting wage. Nationally, large companies are voluntarily raising their own minimum wages, as Allstate did when it announced its own $15 hourly wage.
Heck, in that May 17 Epic Poetry Battle at City Hall, the City Council even advanced an initiative to put a graduated personal income tax on the November ballot – the revenue which would provide free college tuition for Olympia high school grads. It’s not too far of a reach to suppose such public-mindedness (or, as Mayor Cheryl Selby called it, “social progress”) could translate into the establishment of a citywide minimum wage, paid sick leave, and predictive work scheduling.
The long story short is, in this case, a poem:
at this stage
of Olympia’s minimum wage
workers stopped being lurkers,
more like beat-dropping berserkers,
getting their raises
in organized ways
trying to be seen
in the fight for fifteen
because poetry finally pays.
Olympia, We’re Watching You.
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