Could the minimum wage issue get any hotter? Doesn’t seem like it. As the matter continues to simmer in Seattle, and in the aftermath of President Obama’s declaration that he would raise the federal minimum wage, a state legislative committee today held a hearing on not one but three minimum wage bills. There’s at least one other bill pending. Meanwhile, a new survey of state voters shows broad support for a big raise.
The survey of 500 Washingtonians, funded in part by SEIU 775, reveals that nearly two-thirds of voters support raising the minimum wage to $12-an-hour, according to an analysis prepared by Patinkin Research Strategies. Of particular interest is that those in favor included 43 percent of Republicans interviewed, according to the analysis.
“On the other hand, opposition to an increase in the minimum wage is anemic at best,” the survey analysis continues, pointing out that only 28 percent voice opposition to minimum wage hike.
So is a state minimum wage raise unstoppable? A bill that would raise the wage to $12 has some strong support, including the governor. At the hearing today, an array of low-wage workers tried to bring a personal touch to legislators. The workers included Brittnay Phelps, a 23-year-old mom who works at the McDonald’s on 3rd Avenue and Pike Street. To make ends meet, she shares a two-bedroom house with seven other people, according to Sage Wilson, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Working Washington who was at the hearing.
Another bill discussed today would raise the minimum wage even further, to $15 an hour, for school custodians, secretaries and other classified staff.
Yet opposition still exists. One legislator piped up to ask the sponsor of the $12-wage bill, Seattle Democrat Jessyn Farrell, whether she had read a Sunday New York Times op-ed by the University of California at Berkeley economist Christina Romer. The piece argued that raising the minimum wage is not the best means of helping the poor, in part because it leads businesses to raise prices. Also at the hearing, a business owner warned that he would go out of business if the increase was implemented, just as other businesses did when SeaTac had its debate on the minimum wage last fall.
Seattle supporters of increasing the minimum wage might be most concerned about yet another bill that would stop municipalities from setting their own wage rates, which would scuttle a push by new councilmember Kshama Sawant and allies for a citywide $15 minimum.
But some of the most interesting debate may happen at the edges, in bills and initiatives that look at the details of how a minimum wage will (or won’t) be implemented. To that end, one of the bills discussed today would set a “training wage” that would allow employers to pay beginning workers 75 percent of the minimum. This is an idea that has caught fire in business circles, and to some extent it shows the success of the minimum wage movement. A steep raise may be coming, businesses may think, but maybe they can at least get some workers exempted.