Screenshot from the June 17 regular Renton City Council meeting.

Screenshot from the June 17 regular Renton City Council meeting.

Renton City Council discusses possible changes to ‘Raise the Wage’

Businesses have voiced concerns about implementation of new minimum wage law

Initiative 23-02, otherwise known as the “Raise the Wage” initiative, was approved by voters in February and is set to go into effect July 1 — and city leaders are discussing the new wage’s implementation and impact.

At the regular Renton City Council meeting June 17, the council approved a motion to refer the issue of amending the Raise the Wage Initiative 23-02 to the Committee of the Whole.

According to the official minutes from the meeting, this amendment was referred to the committee to address the concerns about its implementation from businesses. It requests that staff propose to the committee amendments that would eliminate non-wage related labor standards and provide better clarity and exemption regarding Renton’s wage and how it applies to employees working in the city.

According to the Renton City Clerk’s office, the date when the issue would be discussed again before the council has not been determined.

Initiative 23-02, which was passed by voters during the Feb. 13 special election, requires employers with 15 or more workers or more than a $2 million yearly gross revenue to pay a minimum wage of $20.29 per hour. It requires all employers to offer additional hours to existing part-time employees before hiring new employees or subcontracted services. The initiative also requires that employers not retaliate against employees exercising rights created by the ordinance, and comply with administrative requirements. The proposed ordinance creates remedies and penalties for violations. If enacted, the ordinance cannot be repealed without voter approval, according to the ballot measure.

Renton City Councilmember James Alberson Jr. suggested a possible discussion about the initiative and what could be done to clarify the language. He said he has talked with residents and business owners who admitted they were confused by some of the language in the initiative.

“I can’t help but believe that it’s really the duty of the council to put forth due diligence on this and, quite frankly, any policy that potentially has some significant detrimental effects on the city as a whole,” Alberson said at the council meeting. “I move to refer the issue of amending the ‘Raise the Wage’ to Committee of The Whole to address the concerns we’ve heard about its implementation from businesses and request that staff propose to the committee, basically amendments that would eliminate non-wage related labor standards and provide clarity and exemptions regarding Renton’s wage and who and how it applies to employees working in the city.”

Councilmember Valerie O’Halloran seconded the motion for discussion purposes. O’Halloran said she understood Initiative 23-02 was a vote of the people, and they can get recommendations from staff to clarify ambiguities and remove onerous hardship reporting requirements.

Councilmember Ed Prince said during the meeting that he believes it would be a disservice for the council not to meet and speak about what could be done and have the administration come back and show what options there are. Despite a discussion, Prince said it could be possible that there are no options, but said the council owes it to the people who have regularly attended the city council meetings to at least have a conversation.

Councilmember Carmen Rivera said that this proposed conversation could have been carried out over the last year, giving the council the creative freedom to do what is being asked of them now.

“In the end, this went to a vote of the people. It was validated, and the concerns that are brought up and were even brought up by our city attorney and brought up by the alternative city attorney was that these concerns should have been brought up ten days after the election was certified. That is the law,” Rivera said. “This is dangerously verging on undermining the democratic process. This vote passed by 60%. It is widely unpopular to try to overturn a vote of the people, especially when the business community has only raised these concerns after the vote of the people, to this extent.”

Rivera said she is OK with having a conversation, but said the council must look at what is legally allowed. Rivera said it is a poor reflection that the matter is being referred to the administration, whose mayor is also a business owner.

Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone responded to Rivera, saying that he has always been neutral on the matter.

“I’ve been extremely clear on this, and I haven’t weighed in once on this,” Pavone said. “I have taken my personal position and dealt with it outside of the city, but in terms of how I’ve dealt with it here at the city, I’ve been extremely neutral since day one. So, I think it’s a little disingenuous for you to start casting aspersions.”

Prince said what is proposed is only a conversation, and again, there might be nothing that can be done, but the council owes it to the people to have the conversation.

“This has happened time and time again, where there have been initiatives for the people that have passed, that they felt like there were issues with, and then they’ve gone and had a conversation about them,” Prince said.

The motion was ultimately carried to be discussed at a future Committee of the Whole meeting.

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