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$15 Wage Supporters Say Foes Are Playing Dirty

KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang

UPDATE 7/2/2014, 4:51 p.m. PT: 

Forward Seattle, a group opposing Seattle’s new $15 minimum wage law, today submitted its petitions to put the law up for a popular vote.  

The Seattle City Clerk’s office says the group turned in more than 19,000 signatures. 16,510 signatures are required to put the law on the ballot. 

The Clerk’s office will send the signatures to King County Elections for verification.

Original Post

The battle over the $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle is now being fought on the streets.

Opponents of the new law are rushing to collect enough signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot. The referendum would ask voters to approve or reject the new law, which phases in a $15 hourly minimum wage for all workers.

But supporters of the law are out on the streets alongside them, warning voters that some signature gatherers have been misrepresenting the issue.

At University Village Shopping Center, several petitioners carrying oversized clipboards asked shoppers for their signatures on two petitions, one to put the minimum wage law up for a vote and another sponsored by ride share companies.

Standing next to them were an equal number of supporters of the $15 an hour law, handing out leaflets with the headline "Voter Alert: Decline To Sign."

Hank Kershell, from the group Yes For Seattle, said he has seen a number of signature gatherers giving false information to voters.

"They’ve been stating that this is to get the minimum wage on the ballot, and when people ask them didn’t the City Council already pass it, they say no. So they are misrepresenting it to the voters," he said.

Yes For Seattle has also sent a letter to the King County Prosecutor's office asking for an investigation. The letter argues the signature gatherers are engaged in "corrupt means or practice," which is a gross misdemeanor under state law.

The group that is sponsoring the signature campaign, Forward Seattle, says it hired outside contractors to collect signatures, but declined to identify the name of the company.

Co-chair Angela Cough said she can’t vouch for every signature gatherer. But she said each of them has been given a one page sheet that explains what to say to voters.

"We have got a lot of people out there trying to help us out by gathering signatures, and I will say that the few people who I have engaged personally have been absolutely forthright in how they have been representing exactly what we are doing," she said.

Forward Seattle is made up largely of small business owners who believe the $15 minimum wage will hurt their businesses and the local economy.

Supporters of the $15 an hour minimum wage have called for a boycott of businesses that support Forward Seattle. Yesterday, the group Working Washington handed out leaflets outside several businesses, asking people not to spend money there.

Forward Seattle is working on a tight deadline to qualify for the November ballot. In order to put the law up for a vote, the group must submit more than 16,510 signatures within 30 days of the law being enacted. They face a 5 p.m. deadline today.

Year started with KUOW: 2005