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King County Council starts work on “Living Wage” policy


Councilmember Dembowski sponsors legislation calling for establishment of a living wage policy for King County employees and County contractors


Metropolitan King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, Chair of the Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment (TrEE) Committee, has authored and introduced a motion this week proposing a living wage policy for King County.

“I am committed to using every tool, deploying every proven strategy -- as well as trying new ones -- and leveraging all resources of this powerful government to combat poverty in King County,” said Dembowski. “We must clear away the hurdles between our residents and the promise of America, and a good-paying job is the best means to that end. This living wage policy will help many residents rise out of the ranks of the working poor and cross the threshold of the American Dream.”

Motion 2014-0058 proposes that the County Council adopt a policy “that a living wage should be paid to county employees and to the employees of persons, businesses, organizations and other entities that receive procurement contracts, tax exemptions or credits or other financial or programmatic benefits from King County.”

“King County’s Strategic Plan includes a commitment to Equity and Social Justice,” said Council Chair Larry Phillips, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “This proposal is putting that commitment into action by asking those who contract with the County to pay their employees a wage that will allow them to live and thrive in this County.”

“I am eager to take on a justice issue of our time. Hard working King County residents who continue to struggle to make ends meet deserve better,” said Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott, who chairs the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee.

Under the motion, the Council would direct the County Executive prepare a report and present to the Council legislation to carry out the living wage policy no later than Labor Day, September 1, 2014. The report and legislation would address the benefits of setting a minimum level of compensation, exemptions to consider, fiscal impact, and whether the County should set a minimum wage for unincorporated King County and at the King County International Airport.

Fifty years after President Johnson declared war on poverty, many King County residents continue to struggle to make ends meet. According to the United States Department of Labor, women and people of color are disproportionately impacted by stagnate wages and the rising cost of meeting basic needs.

The current minimum wage for the State of Washington of $9.32 per hour is 42 percent less than a living wage (wages sufficient to meet a family’s basic needs without public assistance, and provide for some ability to meet emergencies) for a single adult and 58 percent less than a living wage for a single adult with a school-age child according to a December 2013 report by the Alliance for a Just Society. In its self-sufficiency standard for Washington State (2011), the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County reported that Washington State’s minimum wage is insufficient to meet the basic needs of working families.

“Working people across King County have been left behind by employers that fail to keep the promise that a day's work will lead to success,” said SEIU Healthcare 775NW President David Rolf. “When government lifts wages to a living wage, everyone benefits. Workers are able to feed their families, pay rent and save; and local businesses make more because the workers have money to spend. That’s why SEIU members across the state and around the country are supporting these kinds of living wage efforts and we applaud Councilmember Dembowski for his leadership in introducing this legislation.”

"Income inequality is a primary factor in the destruction of the American middle class,” said David Freiboth, Executive Secretary of M.L. King County Labor Council. “Actions like this not only contribute to addressing this threat but also raise the general awareness that an out of control market economy is robbing future generations of a fair chance to live the American dream.”

The 2014 work program for the Transportation, Economy & Environment Committee prioritizes advancing policies that combat poverty in King County. This legislation represents one step in that policy agenda. The TrEE committee will hold hearings, take public input, and work with Executive Constantine to finalize and implement the proposed living wage policy in the coming months.

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