March 12, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 11

News

King County considers enacting a minimum wage law for its workers

By Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

Rod Dembowski

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The King County Council is considering legislation that would establish a minimum wage for the county’s 12,000 employees as well as its contract workers.

Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who introduced the legislation in February, said King County must pay its employees enough to survive without public assistance.

“We’re paying them, but we [state and federal government] still have to subsidize housing or subsidize transit fare,” he said. “That doesn’t seem to be good fiscal policy to me.”

The county will hold its first hearing on the proposal March 18 at 9:30 a.m. in Council Chambers at 516 Third Ave. on the 10th floor.

Dembowski said he wants to have a living wage established by Labor Day in September.

The proposal came on the heels of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Jan. 3 announcement that he intends to establish a $15-an-hour minimum wage for city workers. The city estimates that there are approximately 860 city jobs that pay less than $15 an hour. Seattle’s workers have not yet received their pay increase, according to the mayor’s office. The change will cost at least $1 million a year.

Murray also appointed a panel of lawmakers, union representatives and business owners to study how to create a minimum wage for the city of Seattle.

Earlier this year, in the city of SeaTac, a union-backed campaign established a $15-an-hour minimum wage for hospitality workers that took effect Jan. 1. Washington’s Supreme Court will determine if the minimum wage law also applies to people working at Sea-Tac Airport, which is in the city of SeaTac but under the jurisdiction of the Port of Seattle.

By establishing a living wage for government employees, King County would be following in the footsteps of 100 other jurisdictions across the country, Dembowski said.

“Frankly, King County is behind the times,” he said.

The King County Council has not yet determined a minimum wage for county employees, but will do so in the spring.

Dembowski wants to use research by Diana Pearce, director of the University of Washington Center for Women’s Welfare, to help determine the wage. Pearce studied the cost of living in 37 states, calculating what a family needs to earn to be self-sufficient.

King County is the most expensive county for living conditions in Washington state, according to Pearce.

Her 2011 study found that a single parent and a preschool-aged child would need a full-time job that pays $22.17 an hour to be self-sufficient in Seattle or $26.33 in East King County.

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