Providing opportunities for reaching the “threshold of the American Dream”
King County government took its first step toward development of a living wage guideline with the Metropolitan King County Council’s unanimous adoption at its May 19 meeting of a motion establishing the County’s first-ever living wage policy. The policy would cover County employees as well as businesses, non-profits, and other entities that do business with the County.
“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,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, prime sponsor of the motion. “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.”
“King County’s Strategic Plan includes a commitment to Equity and Social Justice,” said Council Chair Larry Phillips, a co-sponsor of the motion. “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.”
“We live in a County named for a man whose last campaign was to fight for those Americans living below the poverty level,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “It is fitting the government of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. County take the lead in making sure the people who work for the county receive a living wage, and encourage those companies that partner with the county to do the same.”
Since Dow Constantine became County Executive, all permanent County employees earn at least $15 an hour. Starting in July, all seasonal employees, about 80 in number who work in the Parks Department, will earn at least $15 an hour. The proposed policy would also cover businesses, non-profits, and other entities that contract with the County or receive tax exemptions, credits, or other financial benefits from the County, in addition to County employees.
“Our aim is to ensure that businesses who work with the County provide their employees a living wage. We will lead by example,” said Executive Constantine.
Under the adopted motion, the County Executive will gather and research information that the Council will use in developing an ordinance to establish a living wage policy. This includes providing a list of classifications for employees currently paid less than $15 an hour (trainees and participants in job-readiness programs), a list of all contracts greater than $25,000 that the County currently has with non-government entities, and other information the Executive would like the Council to consider.
According to a report by the Alliance for a Just Society, the current minimum wage for the state of Washington of $9.32 per hour is 42 percent less than the wage sufficient to meet a family’s basic needs without public assistance, and 58 percent less than a wage sufficient to meet the basic needs for a single adult with a school-age child. The Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County also reported in 2011 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 County Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment (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.