A Senate committee considered a bill Monday to incrementally raise the state’s minimum wage, an effort that has mixed support in the business community and is opposed by labor groups.
Senate Bill 6087 would raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour over the next four years. Prime sponsor Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said the bill offers a better alternative than a statewide ballot initiative that would raise the minimum wage even higher.
A group called Raise Up Washington filed an initiative in January to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 over four years. If the group collects enough signatures, it will appear on the fall ballot.
Hobbs told the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee the current minimum wage “environment simply does not work.” Cities and local governments are able to do “their own thing,” he said, which leads to confusion among small business owners.
He addressed concerns that both Democrats and Republicans might have with the bill.
“Democrats and our allies, look. I know this bill doesn’t go far enough,” he said. But he told them to remember it would be the most progressive minimum wage bill in the country if adopted.
To Republicans, he acknowledged that the bill goes “too far,” but said it is something that small businesses can get behind. “I think that if an initiative were to pass, it would be far worse,” he said.
Washington’s current minimum wage is $9.47 an hour.
Ariana Davis, an employee at Safeway for the past 10 years, is a member of the group backing the $13.50 ballot initiative. She sits on the board of a local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
She spoke in opposition to the $12 an hour incremental increase. She said that she and her co-workers struggle with low wages and not having access to paid sick leave.
“No one should fear losing their job because they or their kids get sick,” Davis said. “I also believe that no one should have to work at a job that they are dedicated to and still be unable to pay rent or afford food.”
NAACP Washington State Vice President Sheley Secrest told the committee that the minimum wage needed to be increased, but that Senate Bill 6087 was not good enough.
“This particular bill is too little too late,” she said. “It’s not enough people who are going to get the benefit of a minimum wage and it takes too long to really have the intended impact.”
She said an increase $13.50 would help more people across Washington.
Jan Gee from the Washington Food Industry Association was also in opposition to the bill.
“At a recent board meeting and legislative visits it [minimum wage] was described as ‘Do I want to get shot in the arm and get maimed?’ or ‘Do I want a shot direct to the heart?’” she said. “6087 is maiming off the arm of our grocers.”
She said that grocery stores that are expanding are not doing so in Washington, but in Idaho and Montana.
However, some small business owners testified in favor of the $12 an hour wage increase.
Bruce Beckett, representative from Washington Restaurant and Lodging Association, said he prefers that the Legislature set minimum wage rather than individual cities.
“Today we have five minimum wages in the state, four different paid sick leave policies – all with conflicting and sometimes confusing regulatory and recording standards,” he said. “And we truly believe that this body is a place to resolve that issue.”
Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, owns a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop and Zeeks Pizza. He’s cosponsoring the bill, which he says will ensure that there’s consistency in wages between cities. He said it will also allow small business owners raise prices slowly over the course of four years and not lose out on customers.
“I think that if you phase it in the right way, which I think we’ve tried to do in this bill, you can do small really gradual prices changes that hopefully don’t freak any body out,” he said.
The committee on Monday also considered Senate Bill 6578 which would prevent local cities, towns and port districts from regulating wages.