In the “me too” department, King County is jumping on the bandwagon to consider a higher minimum wage for its employees. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued a similar proposal for city workers soon after he took office in January.
It's hardly a new idea. Baltimore became the first city to create a “living wage policy” in 1994. Now, more than 145 cities and counties have created similar polices to establish a minimum wage for government workers and contractors. A living wage is typically several dollars higher than federal or state minimum wages. Currently, $11 to $13 an hour is typical in many U.S. municipalities.
A living wage is supposed to allow someone to cover their basic costs without public assistance, and also have a little left over for emergencies. There’s no dollar figure proposed yet for King County’s living wage but local experts have suggested anywhere from $13 to $17.
So, what’s taken King County so long? King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski said he’s had the same question.
“I don’t know why,” Dembowski said. “All I know is that it’s time for King County’s inaction to end on this particular policy area.”
Dembowski is co-sponsoring a motion with council members Larry Gossett and Larry Phillips that would create a living wage policy for King County.
Dembowski says nearly everyone the county directly employs is already paid at least $15 an hour, so he expects no major cost increase on part of the payroll. However, he’s more concerned about all the work the county contracts out, such as to staff homeless shelters or to pave county roads. Contractors may pay their workers far less.
“It seems to me it’s not fair or just to have folks who are working for the county, either directly or indirectly, and receiving taxpayer monies, not be paid a living wage,” Dembowski said.
Dembowski expects the full council will vote Monday to move forward with the creation of a policy. Some next steps would be to nail down its scope and come up with the actual wage. Labor Day 2014 is the target for a final council vote on living wage legislation.