OLYMPIA – Legislation to raise Washington’s minimum wage to $12 in four years received a public hearing on Monday in the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle.
“While the proposal is modest, and the increase is slow and steady, the effect on the 550,000 people in Washington who will benefit from this and are struggling to make ends meet is enormous,” Jayapal said of House Bill 1355. “The reality is, 90 percent of minimum wage earners are adults. They are mothers and fathers, they are millennials and military veterans. These Washingtonians deserve a raise.”
Washington currently has the highest minimum wage in the nation, but at $9.47 per hour it still falls below the national poverty wage – with someone working full time in Washington making less than $20,000 per year. The bill raises Washington’s minimum wage to $10 in 2016 and 50 cents per year through 2019. At $12 in 2019, Washington’s minimum wage would only be about $1.63 higher than what it would be otherwise.
According to the Washington State Employment Security Department, HB 1355 will create $7 billion additional income dollars for low-wage workers – money that will quickly recirculate back into Washington’s economy in the form of food, clothing, rent and utilities.
“I was raised by a single mom with two kids, and we could barely get by,” said Nicholas Powell, a waiter in Olympia. “It took me three years at or near minimum wage to move up to a waiting positon. Now with tips, I am able to get by without public assistance for the first time in my life and even go to school part-time. But tips are unreliable. You never know how much you will really earn in a month. Having a reliable paycheck would create a lot more security and stability for me, and I could use the extra money for basics like rent, transportation, food and classes.”
“Washington has the most unfair tax system in the nation,” Jayapal noted. “We are one of just a handful of states where all the wealth between 2009 and 2012 accrued to the top 1 percent of earners. Our economy is growing, worker productivity is growing, and there is more wealth in the system – but workers aren’t sharing in that increased wealth. This is unconscionable, and it needs to change. A good start is lifting the floor for low-wage workers by raising the minimum wage.”
Workers from a number of industries, including food preparation and serving, grocery, health care and retail, testified in favor of this and two other bills. One would provide paid sick and safe leave for all Washington workers (HB 1356) and the other would provide equal pay for women (HB 1646).
“I am so grateful that workers and lawmakers had the opportunity to testify on these important bills today, but the proof is in the pudding,” Jayapal added. “These bills deserve to move out of committee for a robust debate and a vote on the floor of the Senate.”
Wednesday is the final day these bills can be voted out of committee before they are no longer viable in the 2015 session.
The hearing can be viewed at www.tvw.org.