By JEFF JOHNSON
One in a series of columns
on ballot measures
(Oct. 13, 2016) — Organized labor has a proud history of leading the way on raising the minimum wage in Washington state.
In 1988, labor with community allies wrote and passed Initiative 518, which raised the state minimum wage from $2.30 an hour to $4.25 in two steps, and historically included farm worker coverage. In 1993, labor drafted a bill to raise the minimum wage to 50% of the state’s average wage and index the minimum wage, but the legislature only voted on a one-time increase in the minimum wage to $4.90 an hour.
In 1998, labor with community allies wrote and supported — and voters overwhelmingly passed — Initiative 688, which raised the state minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.50 in two steps and made Washington the first state in the nation to annually index its minimum wage to inflation. (In this photo, that’s me at the I-688 petition turn-in event at the State Capitol.) Voters approved I-688 by a two-to-one margin, including a majority in every county of the state — red and blue.
This year, labor with community allies have drafted Initiative 1433, which would increase the state minimum wage from $9.47 an hour to $13.50 an hour in four steps and allow every worker in Washington state to earn one hour of paid sick and safe sick leave for every 40 hours of work — up to about 7 paid sick days a year.
The polling on I-1433 has looked strong demographically, geographically and politically across the state. That’s because Washingtonians have a deep sense of fairness and they know that raising these employment standards will help individuals, families, businesses, communities, and our economy.
An estimated 730,000 workers in our state earn less than $13.50 an hour. A typical minimum wage worker in our state is female, single head of household, working full time, and living below the poverty threshold for her family size. I-1433 will change this. A raise to $13.50 an hour will provide a full-time minimum wage worker with an additional $600 a month in their family budget. This will significantly increase their quality of life.
I-1433 also will provide up to seven paid safe and sick leave days for all workers in Washington state. At the current time, there are more than 1 million workers who have no right to any paid sick time at all. That means they have no ability to take time off for their own illness or for a family member’s, and no ability to take time off to protect themselves or the family from domestic violence.
This presents workers with a daily challenge of choosing to stay home to get well, take care of a sick child, or seek a new living arrangement, or missing a day’s pay or possibly risk losing their job. No worker should be forced to make these kinds of decisions. I-1433 will end this dilemma.
That’s why we strongly support Initiative 1433, and hope you do, too.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 600 local unions and approximately 450,000 rank-and-file union members. This is one of a series of columns by Johnson about state and local ballot measures for 2016.