A complete guide to tonight’s KTTH minimum wage debate

By Neal McNamara | April 9, 2014

After weeks of waiting, the wage debate to end all wage debates is finally here: the KTTH minimum wage debate – the Wage War – between Socialist Seattle Councilwoman Kshama Sawant and KTTH host Ben Shapiro begins at 7 p.m. tonight.

Watch it live at 7 p.m.:

To get you ready for the debate, here’s a guide to all the people and concepts involved:

THE PEOPLE

Kshama Sawant is perhaps the most known politician in Seattle. She won election in 2013 – defeating incumbent Richard Conlin, who had served on the Council since 1997 – on a platform of a $15 “now” minimum wage. Originally from the area of Mumbai, India, Sawant became a U.S. citizen in 2010; before city council, she was an economics instructor at Seattle Central Community College.

Ben Shapiro has long been a strong voice in conservative media – he started by writing a conservative column for the UCLA student newspaper as a sophomore and has published several books – and joined KTTH in January as the afternoon host. He is a skilled debater, his most famous opponent being the now-canceled CNN host Piers Morgan.

KTTH host David Boze will moderate the debate. Joining in will be Paul Guppy, vice president of the right-leaning Washington Policy Center; and Rebecca Smith, deputy director of the National Employment Law Panel.

THE RHETORIC

Why install a $15 minimum wage in Seattle? Sawant says, broadly, that raising the wage will reduce income inequality. The wage increase will lead to an increase in local spending, Sawant says, and will allow workers to afford to live in Seattle. Sawant has no problem forcing big businesses like Starbucks, McDonalds, and Wal-Mart (though there are no Wal-Mart stores inside Seattle) to pay $15 per hour minimum, but says, “… small businesses that cannot afford the wage increase could be subsidized by taxing the big corporations and ending corporate welfare.”

Why not install a $15 minimum wage? Shapiro’s argument against the wage, mainly, has been that it will cause inflation, raising prices on goods and services that minimum wage workers use the most, thus eliminating any benefit from a wage increase. Plus, forcing businesses to pay a $15 minimum wage is an arbitrary and destructive intrusion, especially for small businesses. Shapiro has also said that the stereotype of a minimum wage earner is a myth: they’re not all poor single mothers; most are teenagers or live in a home with someone who makes more than minimum wage.

TERMS TO KNOW

Surrounding the debate, there are many terms you may hear tonight that may not be familiar. Here are a few to watch out for:

Total wage or total compensation: This describes a wage that includes other benefits, like tips or health insurance. This term is commonly applied to describe the wages tipped workers earn – if you make the $9.32 minimum, plus walk away at the end of your 8-hour shift with $80 in tips, you’ve actually earned total compensation of $19.32 per hour.

Smart wage: This is an alternative to the minimum wage proposed by the granddaughter of the founder of Dick’s Drive-in. In a smart wage system, pay depends on your education and work experience, and you can earn raises, for example, by getting more education. So, if you have a GED but earn an associate’s degree, you would be eligible for an increase.

Living wage: Essentially, the amount of money a worker needs to earn to live comfortably in a given area. This could include earning enough to pay for rent, health insurance, food, transportation, and other bills, and have some left over for saving or entertainment.

Equal wage gap: This is the difference between how much men earn at work compared to women. Though the figure is in dispute in some circles, some economists say that women earn 77 cents for every $1 a man earns.

PRO/CON

Though Sawant is definitely pro-$15 minimum wage, and Shapiro is con, what do others think?

Several business associations have popped up recently to oppose the wage, including OneSeattle, whose “small business” members include the Washington Restaurant Association, the Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle, the Northwest Grocery Association, Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company, and Nucor Steel, among others, but also some local outfits like Zeek’s Pizza, Lam’s Market, and the Skillet diner. Another group called Sustainable Wages Seattle is smaller, and includes business owners from around the region, not just Seattle.

However, many in Seattle are in favor or supportive of the wage hike. Seattle culinary mogul Tom Douglas has said that he supports raising the wage for some of his staff – mainly the men and women who toil doing things like washing dishes – but that tipped employees should fall under the “total compensation” umbrella. He has said that raising the wage to $15 for all his workers would cost as much as $2.2 million spread across his 15 restaurants.

WHO’S WATCHING

While Seattle debates a $15 minimum wage, President Barack Obama is leading his own minimum wage push, trying to bump the federal wage up from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. So, what happens in Seattle will likely have national repercussions. In fact, if Seattle installs a $15 minimum wage, it will be the highest in America.

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