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Seattle stymied in efforts to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour; advisory group has no plan

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SEATTLE - Highlighting the contentious debate around raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in a supportive city, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Thursday that no agreement has been reached among business and labour representatives trying to create a plan for city leaders.

With the advisory group seemingly failing to come up with a plan, the mayor's office had scheduled a news conference Thursday to announce his own proposal for raising the minimum wage, but Murray instead gave the committee more time. The advisory group of business, labour, non-profit and other representatives has had four months to reach a consensus.

"We're stuck at the moment," Murray told reporters. "I'd rather be late and get it right than rush it and get it wrong."

Except for saying that some sort of phase-in has been agreed upon, Murray did not provide many details of the plan being hashed out. The mayor said he wants to get a "super majority" of the 24-person advisory group to agree to a proposal, and added that if the group fails, he'll present his own proposal to the City Council. But he did not present a clear timeline.

Washington state already has the nation's high minimum wage at $9.32 an hour. Murray, who made a campaign promise in last year's election to raise the minimum hourly wage in the Northwest's largest city to $15, faces a slew of options.

Businesses are pushing for a phase-in, with wage credits for tips and health care benefits, while other groups are pushing for an immediate wage hike on big employers and a limited phase-in for small and midsize businesses.

A group called 15 Now, which is led by socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant, has filed a city charter amendment measure that it plans to run if Murray and the City Council's proposal has too many exemptions. The group's measure would hike the minimum wage immediately for large businesses and have a three-year phase-in for employers with fewer than 250 full-time employees.

Sawant, who was also part of Murray's advisory group, is urging her supporters to move beyond the mayor's committee and focus on lobbying the City Council, or if needed, prepare for a ballot fight.

"Right now, I think it's absolutely critical for workers everywhere in Seattle to be listening, to be alert and make sure the City Council knows that they're watching, that the City Council is accountable to them," Sawant told reporters after the mayor's news conference.

Business groups have said they are considering sponsoring their own ballot measure if 15 Now moves forward with its ballot proposal.

Murray said an initiative fight in November would be create a "mini version of class warfare."

Attending the news conference were representatives of minority-owned chambers of commerce, who argued for a 10-year phase-in because any immediate wage hike would be too drastic for their businesses.

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Manuel Valdes can be reached at http://twitter.com/ByManuelValdes .

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