May 28, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 22

News

King County votes to set a ‘living wage’ for county workers and contractors

By Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

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King County employees and employees of businesses with county contracts will earn, at a minimum, a “living wage,” according to legislation the King County Council passed May 19.

The legislation directs County Executive Dow Constantine to make recommendations for setting that minimum wage.

Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who introduced the legislation in February, said the county’s minimum wage should be high enough so that county workers and contractors can survive without public assistance, a move he said would be cost-effective in the long term.

“It saves downstream costs in terms of our social programs, in terms of the subsidies that governments offer,” Dembowski said at a King County Council meeting.

Councilmember Larry Phillips said the legislation is supported by the county’s strategic plan, which encourages “vibrant, economically thriving, and sustainable communities.”

“If we’re going to add real meaning to [the strategic plan], we need to do this work,” Phillips said.

Councilmember Larry Gossett said that low-wage employees are not receiving wages that match their increase in productivity.

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

The proposal came on the heels of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s plan to create a city minimum wage. The mayor also plans to pay city workers at least $15 per hour. The Mayor’s Office estimated 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.

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.

The King County Council’s legislation will provide a better picture of what county employees earn. The legislation directs Constantine to report how many people working for the county are making less than $15 an hour by June 13. The report should also examine the number of organizations that have contracts or receive tax exemptions from the county.

The living wage would apply to all county employees and people working for organizations that have contracts, receive tax exemptions or receive other financial benefits from the county.

The policy makes an exception for federal or local governments working with the county.

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