MLK Labor Council gave Mayor Bruce Harrell a “Labor Oscar” for “Best Elected Official” last week for his “excellent leadership in reaching a deal with the Coalition of City Unions, his support of ‘first-in-the-nation’ workers rights laws in Seattle… his work to ensure that there was a landmark Labor Harmony Agreement on the Seattle Waterfront,” and his “leadership” in passing Building Emissions Performance Standards legislation that will help create hundreds of good, family-wage union jobs.

Considering he’s the guy who offered City workers a 1% raise and tried to strike human service cost-of-living adjustments, this ceremony came as a shock to many. But Harrell has the chance to prove the haters—myself included—wrong. If the city council passes Council President Sara Nelson’s attack on the Pay Up-branded gig delivery worker minimum wage, then he could (and he really should) veto it. 

Several sources told The Stranger Harrell is considering vetoing Nelson’s rollback on “Pay Up.” Publicola asked Harrell about a veto earlier this month, before the Governance, Accountability, and Economic Development committee amended it last week. He told the outlet that it was too early to decide on a veto. Harrell’s office remained uncommitted when The Stranger asked him about it again Wednesday, but a spokesperson wrote, “The mayor has been consistent with Councilmembers and stakeholders that he would like to see a consensus-driven, data-informed process that ensures gig workers earn a fair wage and addresses fees that are hurting small businesses.”

As it stands, Nelson’s bill doesn’t match the expectation’s Harrell’s office laid out. 

For one, Nelson’s bill is not “consensus-driven.” Nelson excluded minimum wage proponents from drafting her policy, instead letting the gig companies and an Uber-backed lobby group craft the bill. Even with amendments from Council Members Rob Saka and Bob Kettle, workers who benefit from the minimum wage still oppose the changes, and Council Member Joy Hollingsworth abstained from the committee vote, citing her concern about the council not considering all stakeholders. More broadly, recent polling shows only 18% of Seattle voters support Nelson’s measure. 

Secondly, the legislation is not “data-informed.” Nelson has totally blown off workers’ calls for data from the gig companies to guide their decisions. In a newsletter, Nelson called the demand for data “irresponsible” because the data is “proprietary, so it’s unlikely we’ll get it.” Instead, her bill is informed by anecdotes from a select few workers and surveys conducted by an Uber-backed lobby. If she’s not going to demand the apps show her their books, then she should at least consider the data that shows how much delivery apps gouge customers and restaurants, too.  

While it is unclear what the Mayor would consider a “fair wage”—remember that time he offered a 1% raise to City workers?—Nelson’s bill certainly deviates from the City’s current standards. Seattle set the minimum wage for 2024 at $19.97. The current Pay Up ordinance is supposed to shake out to about that figure, including when the worker is not actively delivering an order. Nelson’s bill cuts that wage to about $13.17 per hour, according to analysis by Working Washington. That's less than the historic $15 minimum wage he just celebrated the anniversary of. 

Some would argue that the current ordinance does not ensure a “fair wage” either, particularly cyclists who seem to be shafted by the gig companies. But Nelson argues that lowering the wage would actually increase their earnings because–she hopes–gig companies would make their service cheaper for consumers, which would increase orders and available work for drivers and cyclists.

That brings us to the Mayor’s fourth point: addressing fees. Nelson’s bill fails to address the crux of the issue. When the minimum wage went into effect in January, gig companies threw a temper tantrum and slapped hefty fees on orders for customers. That fee priced some people out of the luxury of ordering food to their homes and workplaces. Some workers say that the new fees drove down order volume so severely that they make less than they did before Pay Up went into effect. Others say that while they noticed a drop in order quantity, they saw a rise in quality, so every order is worth their time. 

Nelson claims that “it’s not [the city council’s] role to question the basis for a business decision, nor do we have the authority to prohibit” added fees. Wrong! The council can limit added fees, and they already have. In 2022, the City instituted a 15% cap on commission fees that apps can charge restaurants for their workers’ delivery services. 

By the Mayor's own stated standards, the bill is total garbage. And he shouldn't lower those standards to appease Nelson, whose relentless power-grabs have stirred rumors that she may run against him next year. He's the only one with the power to stand up to her on this issue.

Her other colleagues may try, though. In a council briefing this week, Council Member Tammy Morales said she would bring forward amendments to the bill, including one to cap the fees on customers. It is unclear if Morales will have enough votes to pass any of her edits. She has yet to publish them, so no one can really comment yet, and the conservative council doesn’t really like to let her win

Regardless of what Morales manages to accomplish in her amendments, Working Washington seems hopeful Harrell will make the right call. 

“Mayor Harrell has communicated time and again—not only through his words, like at the 10th anniversary of the Fight For $15's win, at the MLK Labor Oscars, and countless other occasions—but also through his actions as a policymaker that Seattle is a city that raises workers' wages. Full stop,” said Working Washington spokesperson Hannah Sabio-Howell. “We do not cut pay for low-wage workers in Seattle. We never have, and under Mayor Harrell's leadership, we never will.”

Come on, Harrell. You got a labor group singing your praises in the town's lefty rag. Don't let them regret it!