SEATTLE (KOMO/CNN) – In a packed-out, standing room only council chamber, the Seattle City Council voted to make history – hourly employees will earn $15 an hour in the city.
The city known for its rain and love affair with coffee is now known for shelling out the highest hourly minimum wage in the country.
It's been contested and debated ever since fast food workers walked off the job protesting what they called poverty wages last year.
Councilwoman Kshama Sawant rallied for more changes, including eliminating tip credits, lower training wages and the phase-in. She wanted $15 to all employees starting Jan. 1.
"It is incumbent on Seattle's leadership to vote for the interest of workers," Sawant said.
Council instead approved a mayor backed agreement brokered by labor, business and nonprofits.
"It's an exciting moment for Seattle, for the state and I think for the nation," Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said. "We're about to turn back 34 years of failed economic policies that have decimated the middle class in this nation."
Businesses with more than 500 employees will get three years to phase in the increase. Smaller businesses will get seven years and initially those businesses will be allowed to factor in tips and healthcare costs as part of the new hourly wage.
James Parker works for a nonprofit as a before and after school teacher and he's scraping by with $12 an hour and four roommates.
"It is a historic, historic achievement," Parker said. "So that leaves me with $300 to $400 a month for food everything else."
Those collecting the increase insist more pay means more stability and less turnover, which is good for them, customers and the city.
"We've hit a moment in our society where there's this historic swell," Parker said.
The international Franchise Association immediately announced it would file a lawsuit to block what it calls an unfair and discriminatory plan that would harm franchisees.
Those who own a local Subway or McDonald's are considered a big business under the plan.
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