By Alex Dobuzinskis
(Reuters) - A Seattle business group has submitted signatures to try to force a public vote to repeal a municipal measure that would raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour, a leader of the organization said on Thursday.
Forward Seattle, which represents restaurants, retailers and other businesses, handed in just under 20,000 signatures to the Seattle City Clerk on Wednesday, more than the 16,510 needed to qualify for the November ballot, said group co-chair Angela Cough.
The proposal would ask Seattle voters to repeal a $15 minimum wage increase that was approved by a unanimous vote of the City Council last month and signed by Mayor Ed Murray. It is scheduled to go into effect over several years.
The move by city leaders marked the first time a major U.S. city has committed to such a high base level of pay. Seattle is among several cities leading the way in a national push by Democrats to raise minimum wages, and the plan in the Pacific Northwest city has drawn criticism from business groups.
Under the terms of the measure, businesses with fewer than 500 workers must raise wages to the $15 mark in the next seven years, an increase of more than 60 percent from Seattle's current minimum wage of $9.32 an hour.
Larger businesses must meet that level within three years, or four if they provide health insurance.
"Right now, the (city) ordinance on the table we think is going to be pretty damaging to the city from the business perspective, and from the workers' perspective," Cough said.
It will hurt workers because a number of businesses are preparing to move from Seattle or halt expansions, she said.
In a separate attempt to block the measure, the International Franchise Association filed a federal lawsuit last month that alleges the measure illegally discriminates against franchises because it would force them to pay employees $15 an hour within three years while other business owners would have more time.
Yes for Seattle, a coalition that supports the wage hike, earlier this week submitted a complaint to local prosecutors accusing Forward Seattle signature gatherers of lying by saying the proposed ballot measure was in support of hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour, rather than a repeal attempt.
Cough declined to comment on the complaint.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)