$13.50 isn’t enough. Here’s why we’re going to get it passed.
On March 5th, a broad coalition of worker, community, and faith groups is kicking off a signature-gathering drive for Initiative 1433, which would raise Washington’s statewide minimum wage to $13.50/hour over four years, ensure workers have access to paid sick time, and protect the power of local government to raise standards further if they choose to do so.
No, it’s not $15.
And no, it’s not enough. (And $15 isn’t enough either.)
But Working Washington is going to get $13.50 and paid sick days on the ballot, and then get it passed into law, because every victory is a step forward. Because every victory is incomplete. Because we are going to win in a way that lays the groundwork for workers to continue to win in the years ahead. And because we are going to keep on winning until every worker in our state can support themselves, afford the basics, contribute to the economy, and participate in their community.
$15 isn’t enough, it’s just the beginning.
The landmark $15 laws in Seattle & SeaTac are already making an enormous difference in the lives of more than 100,000 workers — and despite the Chicken Little predictions of the big business lobby and the far right, raising wages hasn’t hurt jobs, closed businesses, brought on a plague of locusts, or opened the Chamber of Secrets.
Instead there are thousands of stories like Martina Phelps, whose higher paycheck at McDonald’s meant she was able to purchase a car for the first time, saving herself a 90-minute bus commute each way, every day. Julia DePape, whose boost to her paycheck meant she was able to take her daughter to the zoo for the first time. And Jason Harvey, a leader since the first fast food strike in Seattle who said that “the first thing I’m going to do with my raise is get a nice dinner and actually go out to a movie for the first time in more than five years.”
(With all that new money in the economy, it’s probably no coincidence that more and more restaurants keep opening in Seattle.)
Higher pay has a huge impact on people’s lives, but we know that getting a raise doesn’t solve every problem workers are facing. So even though Seattle’s minimum wage will start to reach $15 in January, workers in the city are already expanding their movement to take on secure scheduling, labor standards enforcement, affordable housing, high-quality transit, paid parental leave, and other issues that affect us in the fullness of our lives as people who go to work, support our families, and contribute to our communities.
Crystal Thompson has worked at Domino’s for more than five years. She was a leader in the fight for $15 — striking, marching, giving public testimony, organizing her co-workers, and more. Since she got involved, she’s seen her wage increase from $9.32/hour to $13/hour, and it’s heading to $15/hour next January.
She also just had a new baby. But her schedule remains unstable and unpredictable: her workweek begins Monday, but she doesn’t usually get told what days and times she’s going to work until Sunday night. As she explained at a recent worker forum on secure scheduling: “It’s really hard to be able to plan for childcare and things like that, because our shifts get juggled around — you may be working different shifts each week.”
Workers like Crystal know that $15 isn’t enough — it’s just the beginning.
From Aberdeen to Yakima
The current minimum wage of $9.47/hour isn’t enough to support yourself anywhere in our state.
$13.50/hour isn’t enough either, but it’s also an enormous step forward. We recently surveyed Working Washington members across the state about this very question. While many would have preferred a ballot measure that got to $15/hour, three quarters of people agreed that Initiative 1433 presented such an enormous opportunity to substantially raise wages and advance workers rights that it deserved our organizational support.
Raising the statewide minimum wage from $9.47 to $13.50 over four years may not go as far or as fast as some may want, but it’s not a small change — we’re talking about a difference of $8,000 a year for full-time minimum wage workers. Initiative 1433 also provides paid sick days for the 1 million workers in our state who don’t currently have them. So of course we’re supporting this effort wholeheartedly — we simply can’t turn away from a proposal with this much potential to lift up workers and boost the economy.
Paola Zambrano is paid close to minimum wage for her work in the fields of Yakima Valley. “We can’t live on what we are earning,” she explains. “We are worried each time that the rent is due. Worried every time our children need us to buy them clothes. We are pulling our hair, we feel desperation. Don’t we deserve a dignified, living wage?”
Nathan Ward gets paid $9.50 after five years at the Aberdeen Taco Bell. Between medical debt and other bills, it would cost money he doesn’t have to miss a shift when he’s sick. “That’s a $70 hit in my paycheck that I can’t afford — it means I won’t be able to pay my cell phone bill or pay my rent, and I could get kicked out on the street.”
From Aberdeen to Yakima and beyond, Initiative 1433 will change people’s lives.
This isn’t a compromise, it’s an opportunity.
When fast food workers first went on strike and sparked this fight just three years ago, even many of their closest supporters didn’t think it was “realistic” to win substantially higher wages.
Just two years ago, in 2014, the Democratic-controlled State House of Representatives couldn’t muster majority support for a phased-in $12 minimum wage or paid sick days. In 2015, they did manage to pass it out of the House, but it didn’t go anywhere in the Republican-controlled State Senate.
In the meantime Seattle passed its $15 minimum wage law, Tacoma raised wages and provided sick days, and now Spokane has sick days too.
So this year things were a bit different in the State Legislature. Just like last year and the year before, there was another effort to raise the minimum wage to $12/hour and pass paid sick days. But this time, the $12 proposal was pushed by the Washington Restaurant Association — an industry lobby group that has McDonald’s on its board, sued to block $15 from coming to Sea-Tac, and has for decades been the state’s most outspoken, aggressive, and well-funded opponent of higher labor standards.
That’s right: we have moved the debate so far that this year, the state’s leading anti-minimum wage lobby group was pushing to raise the wage to $12… just 2 years after a proposal like that couldn’t get majority support from a legislative chamber controlled by Washington State Democrats.
The business lobby didn’t have a change of heart — they saw the change of politics, and they were hoping to head off an even higher wage increase like Initiative 1433 going to the ballot.
That’s because each time workers win, our movement grows stronger. And the big business lobby loses credibility every time they play the sky-is-falling game and then the sky remains aloft.
That’s certainly what we’ve seen in Seattle, where many of the very same restaurant owners who insisted that raising wages would lead to disaster have since turned around opened multiple new restaurants themselves. Like Tom Douglas, who said 25% of restaurants might close down if wages were raised… and has since opened 6 new restaurants. Or Ethan Stowell, who predicted “local, independent restaurants and retailers will be the ones who are really going to struggle”… and has since grown his independent restaurant chain by three new locations. Or Jeremy Hardy, who insisted he was not having “one of those Chicken Little moments” and grieved that he was “certainly not opening another business in our beloved Seattle”… and has since opened two new Mioposto pizzerias in the city.
We have made incredible progress in the past few years — raising standards for thousands of workers in SeaTac, tens of thousands in Tacoma, and 100,000 in Seattle. And then there’s the broad economic benefits from the boost to consumer demand — after all, it’s just a basic fact that more people with more money means more customers for more business.
Now we have the chance to expand on this progress by winning a $4/hour increase to the minimum wage and paid sick days for as many as 1 million workers across our state.
This isn’t a compromise — it’s an opportunity. And we’re going to seize it.
(You can be a part of it: join the campaign today.)