Proponents of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle debated opponents of the increase Wednesday night at McCaw Hall hosted by KTTH AM 770 talk radio.
“It is workers at the bottom saying they can’t live,” said Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant.
“All the money you and I pay as taxpayers in order to fund these welfare programs are not subsidizing workers, they’re subsidizing Wal-Mart.”
Sawant joined Rebecca Smith, Deputy Director of the National Employment Law Project, on the pro side.
They debated Ben Shapiro, a conservative radio talk show host, and Paul Guppy who is Vice President for Research at the Washington Policy Center.
Both women argued that a wage increase would boost the economy as lower income workers would earn more expendable income.
“If we raise wages, people who don’t have money now have money to spend,” Smith said.
Shapiro and Guppy countered by questioning how those workers will maintain their jobs if their employers are forced to find more money in their operating budgets - money that may not exist.
“Businesses will cut back elsewhere and they will also let workers go and deprive unskilled workers,” Guppy said.
The women often cited Wal-Mart as an example of a company which makes large profits at the expense of workers, which they believe the government needs to mitigate. The men argued that an employer-employee relationship should remain consensual and private, outside of government intrusion.
“I don’t believe income inequality as a moral matter is a basic problem because I don’t care if people are rich. I think there are too many poor people,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro later added, “All of you out there who I’m sure are not rich, are you working for a poor person right now?”
The men claim the only survivors will be big corporations, while small and medium-sized businesses struggle.
“So, the Queen Anne bookstore which is trying to compete against Amazon is immediately going to be put at a disadvantage,” Guppy said.
The debate also answered questions about implementation – should the wage change come immediately or in steps?
“Do it bit by bit and make the adjustments they need to make in order to pay that minimum wage,” Smith said.
Shapiro questioned why a policy, which supporters claim won’t hurt businesses at all, would need a slow implementation.
“Why do they need that? Don’t they have Scrooge McDuck money bins?” Shapiro said. “That’s sort of the premise of this idea, that there are massive profits earned by businesses that aren’t being passed along to workers.”
Mayor Ed Murray is expected to recommend a vote on the issue by the end of April.