The Stand

Washington’s minimum wage will be frozen for 2016

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TUMWATER (Oct. 1, 2015) — Washington state’s minimum wage will stay the same in 2016 — $9.47 per hour — because the national Consumer Price Index did not increase, the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) announced on Wednesday. For years, Washington’s minimum wage has been the highest in the country, but that will change Jan. 1, 2016, when the lowest legal wage in California and Massachusetts will reach $10 per hour.

old-min-wage-logoThe state minimum wage is adjusted for inflation every year as a result of Initiative 688, filed in 1998 by the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) and supported by the state labor movement and dozens of community organizations. Washington voters approved I-688 by a 2-to-1 margin, passing it in every county in the state.

Per I-688, L&I announces the state’s minimum wage for the following year at the end of September. Changes to the minimum wage are based on the nationwide Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) for the 12 months ending each Aug. 31. The index represents a shopping basket of goods needed for everyday living, including groceries, gas and clothing. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the CPI-W decreased 0.3 percent between August 2014 and August 2015.

Under the law, the minimum wage can’t be decreased. Not that the state Republicans haven’t tried.

The last time the minimum wage didn’t increase because the CPI-W dropped was in 2009. Business lobbyists and Republican legislators argued that the minimum wage should decrease in 2010 as a result, but the statute was clear that it could only be increased. The following year, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna attempted to reinterpret the law and deny a 12-cent increase announced for 2011, arguing that the CPI-W drop the previous year should be accounted for by freezing the following year’s minimum wage. His argument was summarily rejected in court. That year, Republican legislators introduced a bill to adopt the “McKenna reinterpretation” of the law, but it died without a hearing.

seattle-15-minwageMeanwhile, many municipalities in Washington state and around the country have been raising city minimum wages in an effort to address extreme income inequality and the proliferation of low-wage, low-benefit jobs that are straining public services. A $15 minimum wage has been approved in SeaTac and Seattle, Tacoma will consider a similar increase on next month’s ballot, and efforts to raise the minimum wage in Spokane, Olympia and other cities are also under way.

L&I enforces the state’s wage-and-hour laws. The agency investigates all wage-payment complaints it receives, as required by state law. More information on Washington’s minimum wage is available at Wages.lni.wa.gov. Employers and workers also may call 360-902-5316 or 1-866-219-7321.

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