The Seattle City Council’s Governance, Accountability, and Economic Development Committee began discussing possible changes to the City’s “Pay Up” policy, a minimum wage ordinance for gig workers that went into effect in January. Committee Chair and Council President Sara Nelson said that she sees three options. The council could preserve the policy as is—an option she rejects. They could repeal the minimum wage—an option for which she has requested draft legislation. Or they could implement the “fix” they discussed Thursday, which Nelson also requested central staff to draft legislation for. 

Workers who support their own minimum wage told The Stranger they would discuss changes, but so far it looks like Nelson’s definition of “fix” means making changes for one side of the debate: the bosses. 

While gig workers who support the minimum wage filled City Hall, the committee heard a presentation about the consequences of the wage from only central staff and Michael Wolfe, the executive director of lobby group Drive Forward.

Drive Forward claims to represent workers, but it also receives funding from Uber, one of the key companies opposing protections for gig workers. The council patted itself on the back for including “both sides” in the conversation, but they completely snubbed Working Washington, a group that proposes progressive labor policy, and the workers who created and continue to support the policy. 

“The proposal in front of the council right now was shaped entirely by corporations and will do nothing to stop corporations from being able to ratchet up fees that gouge customers and small businesses,” said Working Washington Spokesperson Hannah Sabio-Howell.

The Law 

During the meeting, central staff laid out the context. After years of development, the city council passed a policy in 2022 that used a formula to give gig workers a minimum wage of about $15 an hour. Immediately after the policy took effect in January, gig companies retaliated by tacking on extra fees. In statements to their customers and to the press, the companies explicitly blamed the worker-won labor protection for the increased cost. 

During that time, KING 5 went on an anti-labor campaign, platforming the complaints about minimum wage from gig companies, restaurant owners, and workers. As The Stranger reported, supporters argued that opponents of the wage misplaced their anger. Rather than train their fire on the City for establishing basic labor protections, they should aim at the companies for establishing new fees that hurt business. The company's fees amounted to self-sabotage, an attempt to create political pressure and get their way with the new, more conservative council. 

Despite the negative press, the central staff person said they’ve received mixed reports. Depending on which worker you ask, wages have decreased, increased, or stayed the same. 

Nelson seemed to take issue with central staff’s measured language around the effect of the policy that’s only been in effect for three months. 

“We are responding to an overwhelming number of reports that there are things to be redressed,” Nelson said. 

Uber Cosplaying as Workers 

These people sat with the corporate lobbyists. They asked me to present them objectively, and then one of them held his sign upside-down. HK

After central staff gave context, Drive Forward laid out its issues. Essentially, they believe the new ordinance is slowing down business, which hurts incomes for drivers, restaurant owners, and of course, the big corporations. 

In an unofficial proposal that Nelson admitted central staff had been working on for weeks, Drive Forward suggested about a dozen changes to the legislation. Nelson called the proposal a “fix,” but the lobby group suggested changing so much that Working Washington, who organized workers to lobby for Pay Up, said it would amount to a repeal.

The unofficial proposed changes include paying workers for less time, blocking the Office of Labor’s access to information about the companies for enforcement, and allowing companies to more freely boot workers from apps, which would pave the way to undo Working Washington’s deactivation protection law, too. 

Next Steps 

The committee seemed receptive to the proposals. Despite clearly dismissing the perspective of Pay Up supporters, they congratulated themselves on including “both sides.” Council Member Bob Kettle asserted that the last council had not listened to the opposition despite one of the bill’s original sponsors clearly bending to the whim of big business in an amendment to leave out many workers. 

Nelson did not respond to my request for comment about excluding Working Washington and supportive workers from presenting, but in the meeting she clarified that by hearing from “both sides” she meant the gig companies and the workers as represented by the gig-company sponsored lobby group, Drive Forward. 

No committee members pushed back on the assertion that the minimum wage hurt workers. Council Member Joy Hollingsworth came close when she said her main goal was to eliminate the fee, though she did not acknowledge that the gig companies added the fee of their own volition. 

The council’s resident labor-backed member, Tammy Morales, who is not in the committee, spoke out against the “fix” in a press release following the meeting.  

“We should not repeal labor protections every time billion-dollar corporations hike fees on customers without justifying those fee increases. That would allow corporations to extort our political process,” Morales said. 

Morales called on the companies to release information “justifying” the new fees. 

It’s Not Over

The council will have more time to discuss. Central staff will write draft legislation, then Nelson will introduce it, then the committee will discuss more formally, then they’ll make amendments, and then finally vote. 

But Wolfe asked that the council work fast before customers change their delivery habits and leave the apps for good. 

While workers will certainly organize to fight the gutting changes or an all-out repeal, the labor movement acknowledges this will not be a one-off battle. 

In public comment, a spokesperson for the MLK Labor Council said unions are worried that this rollback will be the first in a “series of attacks on our labor protections” levied by the new, business-backed council. The spokesperson said the labor movement is prepared to fight to keep Seattle a great place to live and work.