Washington state has long had one of the highest minimum wages in the country. At $9.47, it is also one of the few minimum wages that can rise with the cost of living.
But then Seattle set a new bar for minimum wages.
Initiative 1433 would take four years to partially catch the rest of the state up to $13.50 an hour.
It’s the latest in a movement that started in SeaTac, extended to Seattle and now potentially goes statewide. Labor supports it, the governor gathered signatures for it and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer is its major donor.
But a change in the state minimum wage would affect many employers, including small business.
“I’m not actively out campaigning against it. But I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Mike Condon, owner of Mike’s Community Cup, a coffee shop in SeaTac.
The original SeaTac minimum wage applied to the big businesses around the airport, and the hotels and the shops inside the terminals.
Condon’s coffee shop wasn’t supposed to be affected, but “it did affect our business,” he said.
Condon said when wages went up at the airport, small businesses quickly learned that they had to compete if they wanted workers. “And we ended up having to increase our wages,” Condon said. “We pay more than the state minimum wage now.”
Condon said the $15 minimum wage did not bring more customers to his coffee shop. He said he’s not against an initiative that would raise the minimum wage in the entire state. However, “I think it would be a good idea if it excluded businesses with less than 20 employees.”
Initiative 1433 does not exclude small businesses. And it also provides paid sick leave – just as Seattle recently decided.
The I-1433 package is opposed by the state’s farm bureau and its restaurant, food industry and retail associations — businesses directly affected by the cost of low-paid labor.
But I-1433's opposition contributions are well under the $3.4 million put in by the “yes” side. A half dozen unions and labor councils are backing the initiative.
“The hope is that with the passage of 1433, there’ll start to be stronger wages all over the state,” said Nicole Grant, executive secretary of the Martin Luther King Labor Council.
“We have a situation today where because Seattle has a higher minimum wage that people who live in places like Federal Way find themselves with these very long commutes.” That can cost money and take time away from family, she said.
Grant said it would be better to be able to work in that community and make a wage that makes it possible to avoid the "insane commute."
Even if Iniatitive 1433 passes, there would still be a gap of around $3 an hour between the Seattle minimum wage and the rest of the state.
Without the initiative, the gap would be more like be $5 or $6 an hour.