State Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) is taking aim at statewide labor rights with three bills that would roll back the minimum wage and sick leave for three groups: minors, employees at nonprofits, and every resident of Washington who lives outside King County. All three were voted out of the senate’s Commerce, Labor and Sports committee yesterday evening.
Last November, Washington’s electorate voted to raise the minimum wage to $11 this year and to $13.50 by 2020. The initiative, I-1433, also requires employers to offer paid sick leave starting next year. The initiative passed by 15 percentage points, with populous counties west of the Cascade Mountains voting Yes and rural eastern counties voting No.
Here’s what each of Baumgartner’s bills would do:
- In order to avoid “losing a generation of young people having a chance at a work ethic,” as Baumgartner put it, SB 5541 would allow employers to pay underage workers only 85 percent of the adult minimum wage. “I hear frequently from people with teens having a tough time finding summer jobs,” Baumgartner told his colleagues. “This is an effort to put more people into the workforce and get people that critical job training.”
- SB 5530 would delay implementation of the new statewide minimum wage for two years in every county but King. As we’ve reported previously, this isn’t the first time the state legislature has passed one set of rules for greater Seattle and another set for the rest of the state. Baumgartner justified this by pointing to King County’s thriving economy. “The minimum wage is going to have a very much different impact on rural counties, particularly those in border communities, than it will in Seattle and King County,” he said. “This [bill] was simply an attempt to try and delay it for two years outside of King County to allow people more time to adjust…[The new minimum wage] is going to cost employers jobs on the Idaho border.”
- SB 5532 would create a seperate, lower statewide minimum wage for nonprofit organizations: $9.53 in 2017, with a yearly increase to keep up with inflation. Baumgartner said he’s heard from Union Gospel Mission that they’ll have to cut employees because of the new minimum wage. “I was hoping we could try to give those folks some relief,” he said. Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle) pushed back. “I understand the intent,” she said, “but the way that it’s written, it includes large, profitable, so-called ‘nonprofit’ hospitals and huge agencies, and for those reasons I cannot support it.”
All three bills passed out of committee yesterday and will go to the Rules Committee, which will decide which bills make it to the full senate floor. Saldaña says it’s possible that one or more might pass the senate (depending on whether Trump-employee and state senator Doug Ericksen shows up for work) but “on the House side, these are definitely not going to move.”
Saldaña, formerly the director of social and economic justice organization Puget Sound Sage, opposes all three bills. “The people of Washington state just voted overwhelmingly to support raising our minimum wage and adding paid sick time,” she says. “We’re spending time trying to undermine what residents of Washington have clearly said that they want—-they need a raise.”
We’ve got a call out to Sen. Baumgartner. You can watch video of the relevant portion of last night’s meeting here, courtesy of TVW and Working Washington: