Seattle activists celebrated a successful campaign to gradually increase the city's minimum wage to $15 by calling for a national movement to close the income and opportunity gaps between rich and poor.
The Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Monday that would give the city the highest minimum wage in the nation.
Socialist City Council Member Kshama Sawant, who after the council meeting called on the people of America to elect more independent and socialist candidates, said the push for a higher minimum wage is spreading across the nation.
"Seattle may be a hippie city. We may wear socks with our sandals," but it's also a city where different progressive groups can work together to bring about change, Sawant said.
The minimum wage issue has dominated politics in the liberal municipality for months, and a boisterous crowd of mostly labour activists packed the council chambers for the vote. They held signs that said "15 Now," chanted, cheered and occasionally jeered when amendments they favoured were voted down.
Mayor Ed Murray, who was elected last year, had promised in his campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as did Sawant in her campaign last year.
"We did it. Workers did this," she said. "We need to continue to build an even more powerful movement."
Council Member Tom Rasmussen said, "Seattle wants to stop the race to the bottom in wages" and address the "widening gap between the rich and the poor."
The International Franchise Association, a Washington, D.C.-based business group that represents franchise owners, said it plans to sue to stop the ordinance.
"The City Council's action today is unfair, discriminatory and a deliberate attempt to achieve a political agenda at the expense of small franchise business owners," the group said in a statement.
The measure, which would take effect on April 1, 2015, includes a phase-in of the wage increase over several years, with a slower process for small businesses. The plan gives businesses with more than 500 employees nationally at least three years to phase in the increase. Those providing health insurance will have four years to complete the move. Smaller organizations will be given seven years.
San Francisco currently has the nation's highest hourly minimum wage at $10.74. The current minimum wage in Washington state is $9.32 an hour.
Earlier this year, Minnesota raised the state's guaranteed wage by more than $3, to $9.50, by 2016. California, Connecticut and Maryland also have passed laws increasing their respective wages to $10 or more in coming years.