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News / Business

King County Council approves raising minimum wage to highest in nation

By Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks, The Seattle Times
Published: May 15, 2024, 7:46am

SEATTLE — The Metropolitan King County Council voted Tuesday to raise the minimum wage in unincorporated areas by as much as $3 an hour, boosting it above Seattle’s and meeting Tukwila’s for the top minimum wage in the nation.

The legislation, which applies only to unincorporated areas of the county — those not within the boundaries of one of King County’s 39 cities and towns — increases the minimum wage at the largest businesses to $20.29 per hour.

The highest minimum wage level would initially only apply to businesses with at least 500 employees.

County Executive Dow Constantine plans to sign the legislation, according to county spokesperson Kristin Elia.

The new minimum wage, which would rise annually with inflation, is set to take effect Jan. 1.

Supporters said the higher pay would support King County residents who work multiple jobs and still struggle to make ends meet.

“Even though they’re suiting up and clocking in for work every day, they continue to struggle to afford their rent to pay for gas to support their children,” said County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay during the meeting Tuesday.

The measure passed 7-2, with Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer voting against it. During the meeting, Dunn raised concerns that smaller businesses, particularly in rural parts of King County, would be squeezed by the hike.

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King County’s new minimum wage ties Tukwila’s minimum for the highest in the state and the nation. Seattle’s minimum wage is $19.97 per hour. It becomes the first county in Washington to raise its minimum wage, following the similar actions of several cities.

SeaTac, Seattle, Tukwila, Bellingham, Renton and Burien have all raised their wage above the statewide minimum of $16.28 per hour.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen Seattle and the Pacific Northwest become sort of leaders in the country in how we approach the minimum wage and what it means for workers,” said former chair of the Raise the Wage Renton campaign Guillermo Zazueta.

Katie Wilson, general secretary of the Transit Riders Union and campaign coordinator for Raise the Wage Burien, said she hopes Tuesday’s vote will encourage other cities in the region, particularly on the Eastside, to pass similar measures.

During public comment, several business owners and employees criticized the ordinance, arguing it would result in higher prices, job loss and fewer hours for workers.

“This bill as written is, it’s going to decimate their income,” Cascadia Pizza co-owner Thomas Reinhard told the council. “There’s no other way to say it.”

An amendment proposed by Dunn that would consider a worker’s total compensation — such as health care benefits, tips and bonuses — toward their minimum wage failed to pass Tuesday.

Businesses with fewer than 15 employees and under $2 million in gross revenue would have a minimum wage of $3 less, or $17.29 an hour to start. Businesses with more than 15 and fewer than 500 employees would initially have a minimum wage of $2 less, or $18.29.

Those disparities would shrink gradually until all businesses have the same minimum wage by 2030.

About 4,100 businesses in unincorporated King County would be affected by the wage hike, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council.

The federal minimum wage remains $7.25 an hour, although 30 states have raised it above that level.

Locally, in the last two years, voter initiatives to raise the minimum wage have succeeded in Tukwila and Renton. In Burien, local organizers are pushing to place a similar minimum wage ordinance on the November ballot to revise significant exemptions in the city’s law.

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