WA Coalition Files Initiative for $13.50 Minimum Wage, Paid Sick Leave

Graphic from the Washington State Budget & Policy Center

Graphic from the Washington State Budget & Policy Center

Raise Up Washington, a coalition of grocery store workers, home care providers, civic leaders, and public policy experts filed a citizen initiative this morning to raise the minimum wage and provide paid sick leave for every worker in Washington State.

What does this mean for Washington’s workers?

  • If the initiative is voted into law this November, it will raise the state hourly minimum wage to $11 on January 1st of next year, $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019, and $13.50 in 2020. (The minimum wage is currently $9.47 an hour statewide.) The department of labor and industries will adjust the minimum wage by rate of inflation every January 1st thereafter.
  • The initiative also resolves a pernicious issue in food service by ensuring that employers must pay their employees all tips and gratuities received. (Think on that for a moment: employers aren’t legally required to share tips with their employees in Washington state right now.)
  • Employers will also compensate their workers with one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Workers start accruing sick time immediately, but employers won’t be legally required to pay out sick time until 90 days after employment begins. Those workers won’t be able to carry over more than 40 hours of sick time a year. This law applies to both full-time and part-time employees.
  • Employers are welcome to provide more than one hour of paid sick leave per 40 hours worked, and they may choose to provide sick leave in advance of accrual. This initiative supplies a set of minimum standards.

This would benefit a huge number of people around the state. Today, more than 730,000 Washington workers make less than $13.50 an hour—more than half of whom are over the age of 30—and over a million workers don’t enjoy any paid sick leave. The state’s current minimum wage would place a family of three below the poverty line. This initiative would disproportionately benefit women and minorities, who are much more likely to work for minimum wage than white men.

Of course, the $13.50 established by the initiative isn’t as high as Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimum wage. That’s fine. It’s entirely appropriate for minimum wages to reflect the higher cost of living in urban areas. But the fact is that all of Washington state desperately needs a raise, and simply raising income on a city level isn’t going to resolve income inequality in our rural areas.

And paid sick leave is a no-brainer. When sick employees are forced to come to work, their productivity suffers, they endanger the health of their coworkers and customers, and they’ll be sick for much longer than if they’d had the time and the resources to provide self-care. And it’s good for the economy, too: employees who live in fear over losing their jobs if they get sick are less likely to behave like secure consumers—if they worry about losing their livelihoods, they’re less likely to invest in better housing options, or to spend their money on goods and services.

The opposition will undoubtedly chime in with their tired trickle-down claims that higher wages lead to unemployment. It’s simply not true. Plenty of studies have shown that raising the minimum wage does not adversely affect unemployment on any significant level. This is for a very simple reason: when workers have more money, they spend that money at local businesses, which then have to hire more employees to keep up with increased demand. The Washington State Budget & Policy Center estimates that this initiative would increase the pay for minimum wage workers by $2.5 billion dollars a year, which is money that would then be spent in Washington state.

Raising the minimum wage is the best way we know to combat income inequality and wage stagnation, which are the two most pressing economic issues of our time. Paid sick leave should be a right for American workers. This initiative is a huge step toward creating a healthier middle class, in every sense of the word. This would ensure that all of Washington—not just Seattle and a few other urban areas—continues to grow and flourish.

Paul Constant

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