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Push to raise statewide minimum wage heard in state Senate

by caprecord

Washington workers, business owners and others testified before a state Senate committee Monday on a bill to boost the statewide minimum wage.

minwageHouse Bill 1355 would raise Washington’s minimum wage to $12 an hour over four years. The first increase would raise the wage to $10 beginning Jan. 1, then to $10.50 in 2017, $11 in 2018 and $12 in 2019. After that, the wage would raise with inflation.

Lily Montes, a Spanaway-based homecare aide and mother of three, told lawmakers her hourly wage of $11.50 isn’t enough. “I have three sons who are nearly impossible to feed,” she said. “It’s hard for me when one of my sons asks me for another glass of milk and I have to tell them our milk has to stretch until my next paychecks. A lot of times, I will skip my meals to make sure my boys have enough to eat.”

Rep. Jessyn Farrell, Seattle Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill, says it’s a modest proposal to give Washington workers a living wage. “If you work full-time, if you work hard, you should be able to pay your own way,” she said.

Supporters say an increase will strengthen the state’s economy – higher wages for workers means more money spent in Washington businesses.

Rep. Matt Manweller disagrees. “If minimum wage is this silver bullet that’s going to solve all of our problems,” he said. “Why isn’t it the state which already has highest minimum wage in the country already solving these problems?”

Critics say it would hurt Washington businesses. Don Stolz, who owns five grocery stores, says the increase would cost his business more than it makes. “I would have absolutely no choice but to raise prices and reduce employees in order to survive,” he said.

A report from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) predict Washington would lose $7 billion in economic output and 16,000 jobs within a decade if the bill passes. Working Washington, which advocates for $15 an hour minimum wage, is still reviewing the report, but a spokesperson says NFIB may not be taking into account money that would be pumped back into the economy.

The bill passed 51 to 46 along party lines in the state House. No action was taken on the measure in the state Senate. It has so far not been scheduled for a committee vote.

Two substitutes were introduced Monday. The first, from Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, would raise wages at the rate of inflation, plus 3 percent, if the economy is growing. Another from Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, would count sick leave and health care coverage toward the wage.

Washington has the nation’s highest minimum wage at $9.47.

The state Senate committee on Monday also heard measures to discourage gender discrimination in the workplace and to secure more paid sick and safe leave for Washington employers.

House Bill 1356 would require Washington businesses with more than four full-time employees to provide five days of paid sick and safe leave each year. Employees could access leave, under the bill, 180 days after they are hired.

House Bill 1646 makes it a crime for employers to discriminate when compensating employees. If workers can prove an employee discriminated based on gender, he or she is entitled to damages under the bill, which could include $5,000, attorney’s fees or interest of 1 percent per month on all compensation owned.

Employers would no longer be able to prevent workers from disclosing wages or salaries. “By letting employees talk about wage without fear of retaliation, they’ll be able to see if they’re being paid fairly,” prime sponsor Rep. Tana Senn said.

No action was taken during Monday’s hearing on either bill.