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McKenna’s minimum wage stance decried

SEATTLE — Low-wage workers and community supporters gathered outside Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna’s Attorney General’s office in Seattle on Tuesday, giant McKenna-faced pennies in hand, to give him their “two cents” about their struggles to make ends meet while McKenna has opposed a small increase in the minimum wage.

McKenna tried to block a voter-approved 12-cent increase in Washington state’s minimum wage for 2011, issuing a new interpretation of the popular 1998 initiative that aimed to end the annual inflationary adjustments in certain years, including 2011. Citing McKenna’s interpretation, corporate lobbying groups representing minimum-wage paying industries sued the state to try to block that increase. The judge quickly ruled against them on summary judgment, saying the law was clear and the 12-cent increase in 2011 should proceed.

But apparently, the industries that pay low wages haven’t forgotten McKenna’s advocacy on their behalf. A recent report shows that the four of the six largest low-wage employers in the country has given a total of more than $16,000 to the McKenna campaign — Walmart, Yum Brands (which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC), McDonald’s, and Subway.

On Monday, in a protest organized by Working Washington, low-wage workers including a child-care workers and airport worker demonstrated outside McKenna’s office to criticize his position on the minimum wage and to tell him “the 99% needs a raise.” They held 12 pennies — representing the 12-cent minimum wage increase McKenna tried to block — that had his image on it and read, “In low wages I trust.”

They also pointed out that McKenna has said his six-figure salary as Attorney General is “too low.” At Washington’s $9.04 an hour minimum wage, a full-time worker earns about $18,800 a year.

The state’s business lobbying groups have begun to push for a sub-minimum “training wage,” and Republicans in Olympia are expected to introduce legislation in 2013 to accomplish this. The prospects for passing such a bill would be greatly improved if Rob McKenna is elected governor this fall.

The event in Seattle on Tuesday was part of a national day of action to raise the minimum wage. Low-wage workers in dozens of cities are calling on elected officials and big corporations to give the 99% a raise by supporting higher state minimum wage laws and measures like the proposal by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to raise the federal minimum wage to $9.80 an hour and adjust it for inflation every year, as Washington does.

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