King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay speaks at Sept. 7 press conference in Skyway with colleagues, small business owners, and union representatives in support of a minimum wage increase. (Cameron Sheppard/Sound Publishing)

Minimum wage raise proposed for unincorporated King County

If passed, the ordinance would also raise minimum wage county employees, contractors, to $18.99/hour.

The King County Council is working on a proposal that would raise the minimum wage in unincorporated King County and for county employees and contractors to $18.99 an hour.

On Sept. 7, several King County Councilmembers who are sponsoring the minimum wage raise ordinance — including Girmay Zahilay, Joe McDermott, Rod Dembowski, and Jeanne Kohl-Welles, as well as small business owners, workers, advocates, union members and union representatives — gathered in Skyway, an unincorporated community just north of Renton and just south of Seattle to speak in support of the proposal.

Zahilay said that Skyway was an example of an unincorporated community that has become an “island of poverty,” stuck between two municipalities and left without the representation and advocacy for workers and their interests.

“Workers in unincorporated King County are always left out of policies that increase minimum wage in neighboring cities,” Zahilay said at the Sept. 7 press conference. “That means someone working in Skyway could be paid several dollars less per hour than if they went a block north to Seattle or a block west to Tukwila.”

Zahilay said that a minimum wage raise policy for unincorporated King County would be a necessary investment into the economy and workers of the region, effectively keeping people employed within communities like Skyway and taking a step toward improving the affordability of living in the region.

“No person working a full-time job should struggle to survive,” Zahilay said of the current cost of living and income disparity that many living in King County face.

In communities like Skyway, where the state’s minimum wage of $15.74 per hour is applied, it would require a worker to work 103 hours per week in order to afford a “modest one-bedroom rental” in King County, according to data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Danielle Alvarado, executive director of Working Washington and the Fair Work Center, spoke at the press conference and argued that an increased minimum wage would address the racial inequities that exist within the local economy as people of color and marginalized communities, and would be a step in the right direction to address the region’s current housing crisis, improve childcare access, and healthcare access as a result.

Councilmember Rod Dembowski said that with roughly 250,000 people living in unincorporated King County, more than any city in the county except Seattle, the proposal would make significant progress toward creating a “fair and just economy.”

Zahilay addressed concerns about the impact the ordinance may have on small businesses and large employers in the region, pointing out current provisions in the ordinance that allow for gradual phase-ins of the wage requirement for companies of certain sizes and gross revenues.

As currently written, it stipulates that employers that employ 15 employees or less and have an annual gross revenue less than $2 million shall pay their employees at the minimum wage minus three dollars. The three dollar reduction will decrease annually by fifty cents on January 1 of each year thereafter. It is also noted that employers that employ more than 15 employees but less than five hundred employees will be required to pay their employees at the minimum wage minus two dollars per hour. The two dollar reduction shall decrease annually by one dollar on January 1 of each year thereafter until the reduction is zero.

Zahilay said the ordinance has yet to be assigned to a committee as it will continue to be workshopped and adjusted with community and stakeholder input. He said he expects the ordinance could go to a vote by the end of 2023, but may be voted on in early 2024.

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