OLYMPIA, Washington — Supporters of raising Washington state's minimum wage filed a ballot measure Monday that seeks to incrementally increase the state's rate to $13.50 an hour over four years starting in 2017, as well as provide paid sick leave to employees without it.
The initiative was announced at a news conference by a coalition of workers and union members. Washington's current minimum wage is $9.47 an hour, but the rate is adjusted each year for inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for the past 12 months. The yearly recalculation is required by Initiative 688, which was approved by Washington voters in 1998.
For several years, Washington state had the highest statewide minimum wage in the nation, but five states had higher rates starting this year: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Some cities in Washington state already exceed the statewide minimum wage. A draft of the ballot measure said the minimum wage would resume being adjusted for inflation beginning in 2020.
Lori Pfingst, the research and policy director for the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, a Seattle-based organization that supports the ballot measure, estimated it would take until 2031 for the rate to rise to $13.50 an hour adjusting for inflation without the ballot measure filed Monday.
Seattle's minimum wage is set to incrementally rise to $15 an hour and Tacoma voters recently voted to raise the city's minimum wage to $12 an hour over two years starting this year. The minimum wage for transportation and hospitality industry workers in SeaTac is currently $15.24 an hour.
Teresa Mosqueda, the campaign director for the Washington State Labor Council, said at the conference that the coalition filed a ballot measure because past efforts in the Legislature to raise the state's minimum wage and provide paid sick leave failed in recent years. Lawmakers debated a bill to raise the state's minimum wage to $12 an hour over four years last year but it didn't get a vote in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor.
Ariana Davis, who works at a Safeway grocery store in Auburn, officially filed the ballot measure.
"Workers like me deserve to be able to earn a decent wage, I can't tell you how frustrating it is to work countless long demanding hours at a job and still not be able to afford basic necessities in life such as food gas and rent," she said at the press conference.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritsville, said in an interview that raising the minimum wage to $13.50 would be a "tremendous" burden in some parts of Washington, and to some small businesses.
"If you're in counties that have persistently high unemployment rates, it's not so rosy," he said.
Last year's effort to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour, House Bill 1355, was reintroduced to the Legislature this year. The primary sponsor is Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle.
Schoesler, the Senate majority leader, said passing that bill would require compromises. One might be setting a separate minimum wage for people under 18.
Farrell said a compromise on her bill would have to include "a meaningful wage increase" and said it can't include changes like a separate minimum wage for employees being trained and other policies she said "really leave people behind."
Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Businesses, said in a statement the association prefers the Legislature to work on the issue of minimum wage, rather than have it raised by an initiative.
The measure filed Monday would allow employees that don't currently have sick-leave benefits to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave each year. Mosqueda said she believes the measure wouldn't violate a Washington rule that says bills can only address one subject because minimum wage and paid sick leave are "directly connected" to labor standards.
AP Correspondent Rachel La Corte contributed to this report.