The Case Against a “Training Wage”


Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee have come out with a proposal for a $15/hr minimum wage that is now being debated in the Seattle City Council.  At the first city council meeting on the Mayor’s proposal (May 5), the first question from councilmembers was not “why does big business need a 3 year phase in?” or “isn’t a 7-year phase in too long?” but from Sally Bagshaw asking if there “was any compromise reached on training wages?”

We need to be clear. The minimum wage is just that – the minimum. In effect, $15 is a training wage in that it is already the minimum on which we can expect people to survive. $15/hr is not a living wage, especially not in this increasingly unaffordable city. To ask new employees to live on less is to ask them to live in poverty.


Training wages are used by business to pay workers less. Businesses hire new workers at the lower rate, then fire them when they hit the higher rate and hire new workers. People need stable jobs with wages that allow for a dignified life. No matter if they are experienced in the job or not, they still need a job where they can feed and house themselves and their families. Now, more than ever, young people are supporting their families with their jobs. The myth of the teenager just getting a job for pocket money is a relic of the past. After the recession, both parents and their young adult children are scrambling to make ends meet.

Even if a training period is necessary for a job, that is an argument in itself for higher pay. If the job is so specialized, so complicated that there needs to be a training period, why are they being paid minimum wage in the first place? If they were to be paid a sub-minimum wage, all sorts of distractions from the training would result like taking up a second job, the stress of struggling to pay the rent and bills, and so on. If someone needs extensive training, they should have the security of a decent wage in order to make the most of that training.

When asking about training wages, Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw brought up the example of prison re-entry. How can she expect people to get back on their feet and join society if you treat them like a second-class citizen? Poverty is a major driving factor in crime; forcing people to continue living in poverty will not solve the problems they face.

The general argument for training wages is that some people are not worth the minimum wage, and if we force businesses to pay them what everyone else gets then they won’t be able to find any jobs. A low paying job is better than no job at all, right? Whether they are talking about prison re-entry, young workers, or just someone new to the job, it is the same argument. But, the problem isn’t wages. The problem is lack of jobs. We need to fight for more investment in our schools, our health system, and our transportation.  There is more than enough work that needs to get done.  Depressing wages won’t increase the jobs that people need to survive, it just keeps working people in poverty.  

Though the Mayor’s proposal is flawed and disappointing, it shows that the grassroots movement is winning; it has forced the establishment to concede on the number $15. In negotiations on the Seattle Mayor’s Advisory Committee, big business lost the battle for a training wage. If it is reintroduced by the council, that will be a big gain for business and a huge loss for workers. Now is the time to keep the pressure up on the city council. They can change the proposal however they want, and we need to make sure that they close the corporate loopholes, not add new ones.  

Get involved in 15 Now and help keep up the pressure on the Seattle City Council!  Join us at the next council meeting to demand the Mayor’s proposal be amended in favor of workers, not business:

1. Remove the phase in for big business.  McDonald’s doesn’t need a 3 year phase in.

2. Remove the tip/healthcare penalty, and shorten the phase-in for small businesses.  Worker’s can’t pay for rent with their healthcare card and they can’t wait until 2025.