Olympia bill would threaten Seattle's efforts to raise minimum wage

Republican Sen. John Braun knows his bill won't make it through the Democratically-controlled House, but he hopes it will prompt "broader conversation" on the subject.
Sen. John Braun

Sen. John Braun Washington State Legislature

Efforts by Seattle and SeaTac to raise their minimum wage would be nullified under a bill introduced Monday in the Washington Senate. The same bill would take Seattle's sick leave law out of action as well.

The bill from Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, would forbid cities, counties and port districts to change wages, hours of work and employee retention rules and regulations if they are different from the state's laws on those topics. The bill goes to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, chaired by Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, who is one of the bill's co-sponsors.

Braun ackowledged that his bill probably won't pass the Democratically-controlled House, and that his intention is not to challenge Seattle's efforts, but rather to prompt  "a broader conversation" on the subject. 

Braun has two issues with a piecemeal approach to raising the minimum wage. First, minimum wage rates in Seattle and SeaTac affect employers and people outside of their jurisdictions. Seattle passed a mandatory sick leave law in late 2011, which went into effect in late 2102 over the objections of the business community. One major concern was the confusion over what happens when a non-Seattle-based business employs someone within Seattle, a concern raised by the law's mandatory sick leave for workers who spend a specific number of hours working within the city.

SeaTac voters approved raising the minimum wage within city limits to $15 an hour. New Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant was elected primarily on her $15-per-hour minimum wage campaign promise. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the city government have begun studying whether to go to a $15 minimum wage within the city.

Murray knocked the proposed bill on Tuesday. 

"My former colleagues across the aisle in Olympia openly disagree with us on these issues," he said in an emailed statement. "At the same time, they’d strongly oppose any attempt by the state to limit the cities and towns in their districts from controlling their own destiny."

Washington's current minimum is $9.32 an hour. Gov. Jay Inslee wants to push that as high as $11.82. House Democrats will likely introduce a bill to raise the minimum wage this week.

Braun's other concern about city-specific minimums is their potential affect on wages for teenagers.

Still alive in the Washington Senate is a 2013 bill by Holmquist Newbry that would  'create a "training wage” — 75 percent of the state's minimum wage, or $6.99 per hour — for the first 680 hours an employee works. That wage would be limited to 10 percent of n employer's workforce. Last, year, Holmquist Newbry said the training wage was intended to encourage employers to hire teenagers.

Her bill made it out of her committee, but stalled — for rewriting — before a full floor Senate vote. Which means the bill is still technically alive for this current session.

John Stang is a longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a Masters of Communications in Digital Media degree at the University of Washington. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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