Seattle mayor announces plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a plan on Thursday to raise the minimum wage in the city to $15 per hour over three to seven years, making Seattle the first major U.S. city to commit to such a high base level of pay, more than twice the national minimum.

The plan is the product of a committee convened by the mayor, including labor and business leaders, which spent weeks negotiating a compromise deal. It must still be approved by Seattle's City Council before it becomes binding on employers.

Under the terms of the plan, businesses with fewer than 500 workers must raise wages to a minimum of $15 per hour over the next seven years. Those with more than 500 workers must meet that level within three years.

Once the $15 level is reached, further hikes will be linked to cost of living increases, said Murray, a Democrat who took office in January with a $15 minimum-wage law as one of his administration's objectives.

"Seattle will prove itself, when this process is finished in Council, to once again be an incubator of democracy, to be a city that once again does great things, by showing how we as a city can lead the conversation and the nation to address this growing problem of income inequality," Murray said at a news conference.

Seattle is leading the way in a nationwide Democrat-led push to raise minimum wages. Seattle suburb SeaTac last year approved an initiative enacting a $15 minimum wage for workers, although airport employees were later excluded.

Washington already has the highest minimum wage of any U.S. State, at $9.32 per hour, well above the federal minimum of $7.25.

Proposals to raise the minimum wage have been considered in nearly three dozen states in 2014, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Increases have been approved in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

President Barack Obama has pushed Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, but has failed to win the backing of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bernadette Baum)