King County Council considers increasing minimum wage to $19/hour

The legislation, introduced by Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, would make the rate for unincorporated parts of King County among the nation's highest. 

Three people sit at a dais that is in front of a sign that says "King County Council."

King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay announced on Thursday that he has introduced county legislation to increase the minimum wage in unincorporated King County to $18.99/hr. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

The King County Council is considering raising the minimum wage to $19 an hour for unincorporated King County.

The proposal has been introduced by County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, who is planning a formal announcement later Thursday at an event in Skyway.

The proposed minimum wage would cover businesses in areas outside any city limits, so it wouldn’t include Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, Renton or other cities, but it would cover areas such as Skyway, White Center, Vashon Island and Bear Creek.

Zahilay told Crosscut that the ordinance will go through a public workshopping process before the County Council will be asked to vote.

“Introducing an ordinance is a starting point, not a finishing point,” he said. “With the workers, with the small businesses, we will shape it to an optimal place,” he said.

King County has already been a center for the push to raise the minimum wage.

Several cities in the county, including Seattle, already have a minimum wage higher than the state minimum wage of $15.74 an hour. The city of SeaTac has one of the highest in the country, $19.06 an hour. It was the first city in the nation to establish a $15-an-hour minimum wage after a 2013 voter initiative, which also called for annual adjustments. The Seattle City Council followed two years later, raising its minimum wage in 2015; it is currently $18.69 an hour. 

Zahilay’s proposal comes after a successful voter effort in Tukwila to raise the minimum wage to $18.99 an hour, and a current push for a ballot measure in Renton for employers to match Tukwila’s minimum wage.

All of these wages eclipse the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor

Zahilay’s proposal also calls for annual inflation adjustments. Exemptions to the minimums would include:

  • Workplaces with 15 employees or fewer and an annual gross revenue less than $2 million would pay the county minimum wage minus $3 the first year. That difference would decrease annually by 50 cents on Jan. 1.
  • Workplaces with 15 to 500 employees would have a minimum wage $2 less than the county’s. That reduction would decrease by $1 each year until it matches the county’s minimum wage.

Washington has the highest statewide minimum wage in the country (although the District of Columbia, which is not a state, has a minimum wage of $17 an hour). Washington cities without their own minimum wages are covered by the state law – $15.74 an hour.

Zahilay’s council district includes Skyway, which is located between Seattle, Renton and Tukwila and bordered by cities that have raised their minimums above the state’s. The hope was to bring parity to people who work outside those city limits.

“The cost of living in our region is skyrocketing,” he said. “It’s been hard for people living in our unincorporated areas to make ends meet.”

According to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a single childless adult in the Seattle-metro area would need to earn $44,686 a year before taxes – or $21.48 an hour for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year – to cover all expected expenses. A family of two working adults with two children would need to earn $118,907, according to those researchers.

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