The Seattle City Council voted unanimously on Monday to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The vote was praised by workers across the city, many of whom work for low wages in fast food restaurants.
Martina Phelps, 22, works at a downtown McDonald’s. She said the extra money will enable her to move out of her mother’s house and achieve other goals.
“It's hard right now," she told USA Today just before the council passed the measure. ”I have been trying to save up for school, but I just can't do it. This would mean a lot."
The new wage will be the highest minimum wage in the nation but the change will not come overnight. The measure will take effect April 1, 2015. It gives businesses with more than 500 employees nationally three years to phase in the increase according to The Associated Press. Large companies who also provide health insurance to employees will be given four years. Smaller companies operating in the city have seven years to make the changes.
The new wage more than doubles the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage and it marks a substantial increase over Washington state’s minimum wage, which is set at $9.32 an hour.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray campaigned on raising wages for workers in the city. He applauded the efforts of the council Monday, saying that the phase-in process was a needed compromise to get the measure passed.
“While this is a bold proposal, it is a moderate proposal: There’s a seven-year phase in,” Murray told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Calls for a wage increase began among striking food workers last year. The furor over the needed wage hike even led the city to elect one socialist candidate, Kshama Sawant, to the council.
Sawant denounced the phase-in process and other stipulations in the new measure that single out workers who earn tips. She argues that those rules unfairly create another category of worker; a category that follows yet another phase-in schedule. Sawant believes those rules are also politically motivated.
“It is clear why business wants sub-minimum wages for some workers: It is divide and rule,” she said.
Councilman Nick Licata said the new wage rules make the city a leader in the national fight for income equality.
"Seattle, and other cities, are taking direct action to close our nation's huge income gap because the federal and state governments have failed to do so," he said. "By significantly raising the minimum wage, Seattle's prosperity will be shared by more people and create a sustainable model for continued growth.”