Minimum wage freeze passes Senate
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Automatic increases in the state minimum wage, mandated by Washington voters, would stop during periods of high unemployment under a bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday.
Under an initiative approved by voters in 1998, the minimum wage goes up every year as long as the cost of living keeps rising. Known as "indexing," the increases keep the wage one of the nation's highest. On Jan. 1, it increased to $7.16, the highest in the nation.
Business groups and many Republican lawmakers argue that hurts the economy, costing jobs in small businesses that depend on minimum wage labor and areas such as agriculture that compete in global markets.
Senate Bill 5697 would freeze the wage unless the state's unemployment rate dropped below the federal jobless rate. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate last year, but quickly died in a labor-friendly committee in the Democratic House.
"It's difficult to tell someone that they're not worth $7.16 an hour, but we have to do something," said Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla. "This is not intended to be a living wage, it never was intended to be a living wage."
Hewitt's proposal would only allow indexing of the minimum wage for the months that the Washington unemployment rate was lower than the national unemployment rate. Washington's jobless rate is usually higher than the national rate. If the bill had been in effect in recent years, indexing would have been largely idle.
Labor groups and many Democratic lawmakers argue that even the high minimum wage isn't enough to support a family. They also argue that most of Washington's job loss in recent years has come in high-wage sectors such as aircraft manufacturing.
"If you work full time, you shouldn't live in poverty," said Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle. "This bill is not only irresponsible, it's unfair, it's cruel. It punishes the workers, punishes the poor."
The bill passed 27-22 with a handful of minority Democrats joining majority Republicans.
The bill now goes to the House, where Democrats hold the majority and House Speaker Frank Chopp opposes the idea.
The minimum wage initiative passed with 66 percent of the vote in 1998. One provision of Hewitt's bill would cause it to take effect immediately, which would rule out a citizen referendum to restore the current law.
On the Net:
Washington State Labor Council: http://www.wslc.org
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]