Among the most divisive issues statewide this year has been the battle to raise the minimum wage. In fact, it’s become a focus up and down the West Coast, as cities such as Seattle and San Francisco already have passed initiatives to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
On one side of the issue are small businesses that rely on low-wage employees to operate at reasonable profit margins. On the other side are those employees who cannot afford to live working minimum-wage jobs.
Among the hardest-hit businesses are restaurants, which often rely on low-wage employees who often raise their wages through tips. In fact, some of the biggest critics of the push to raise minimum wages have been restaurant owners. Some have even gone so far as to raise the minimum wage to $15 right away, then eliminate tips — instead adding a 15 or 20 percent “service fee” to replace the traditional tip structure.
Of course, patrons who no longer have control over how much they wish to tip an employee based on the service provided generally are unhappy about such changes.
Think back to your first job. Depending on how long ago it was, your minimum wage likely was pretty low. I recall a temporary job in the mid-1970s — in the newspaper business — at which I made $2 per hour. I recall being pretty excited about the $16 I made that day. In college, I worked on the grounds crew at a golf course for $3.35 an hour. I was thrilled to make around $25 per day doing that every day.
Now along comes Initiative 1433, which would raise the state’s minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020 and require employers to provide paid sick leave for every worker starting in 2018. It does not take into account the size of the business. For example, a business employing two workers would have to give the same amount of paid sick time as businesses with 5,000 workers.
Initiative 1433 would make minimum wage in excess of $28,000 per year, which is above the state poverty line of $19,530. While $28,000 will barely buy you a cardboard box for a home in Seattle, it could actually be a livable wage in some areas, particularly if two people in a household managed to combine that to more than $50,000 per year.
If you are a registered voter, Initiative 1433 will be on your ballot come Nov. 8. While the presidential and gubernatorial races are grabbing all the headlines right now, the minimum wage initiative perhaps has longer-term effects on our state’s future. Proponents say this is smart for our state’s economy. Opponents think a better law should be considered in the hope of staving off unintended consequences.
At the next Badger Club public forum, we will bring together both sides of the initiative to help all of us make better-informed voting decisions.
We hope to see you there.
If you go
What: Columbia Basin Badger Club forum on minimum wage
When: Noon, Oct. 17
Where: Shilo Inn, 50 Comstock St., Richland
Cost: $20 for Badger Club members, $25 for nonmembers and $30 on day of event
RSVP: Call 509-628-6011