Restaurant group wants relief from country's highest minimum wage

Puget Sound Business Journal

Oct. 1, 2003

The Washington Restaurant Association said it plans to lobby the 2004 Legislature for relief for the restaurant industry, which is dealing with one of the worst economies in the nation, and is now facing the prospect of operating in the state with the highest minimum wage in the country.

The association's action is in response to Tuesday's announcement by the state that the minimum wage rate will increase to $7.16 per hour on Jan. 1, from the current $7.01.

The rate in Washington has increased each year since 1998, when voters passed an initiative linking annual rises in the minimum wage to rises in the federal consumer price index. The restaurant association said the hospitality industry has born the brunt of the increases, and it has specific reform ideas for lawmakers to consider.

The association said it plans to propose that when the state's monthly unemployment rate is higher than the national average, that month won't be used in the indexing formula. Washington's monthly unemployment rate has been above the national average since 2001.

"In essence, when times are good, the minimum wage would go up," the association said. "When times are difficult and jobs are being lost, the minimum wage would stay flat to protect jobs."

Another measure the group will propose is allowing a restaurant to pay a tipped employee 50 percent of state minimum wage as their base wage, so long as the employee makes at least the minimum wage in tips alone. Currently, Washington state does not allow tips to count toward minimum wage payments, unlike the federal government and 43 states, the group said.

"Washington restaurants are in an economic crisis," said Gene Vosberg, president of the association. "As costs rise and margins fall, restaurants have been forced to cut labor costs -- which means real jobs for real people across Washington -- and the failure rate of restaurants will continue to increase. Restaurants simply cannot afford to incur any more costs and hope to stay alive."


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