King County Council begins work on ‘living wage’ policy

King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski - Contributed photo
King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski
— image credit: Contributed photo

The King County Council will begin work on trying to figure out how to implement a “living wage” policy, as Councilmember Rod Dembowski introduced a motion to begin that work on Feb. 6.

“I am committed to using every tool, deploying every proven strategy – as well as trying new ones – and leveraging all resources of this powerful government to combat poverty in King County,” Dembowski said in a press release from the county. “We must clear away the hurdles between our residents and the promise of America, and a good-paying job is the best means to that end. This living wage policy will help many residents rise out of the ranks of the working poor and cross the threshold of the American Dream.”

The motion put forth by Dembowski proposes that the Council adopt a policy “that a living wage should be paid to county employees and to the employees of persons, businesses, organizations and other entities that receive procurement contracts, tax exemptions or credits or other financial or programmatic benefits from King County.”

Dembowski is supported in this effort by Council chairman Larry Phillips, who noted that “King County’s strategic plan includes a commitment to equity and social justice. This proposal is putting that commitment into action by asking those who contract with the county to pay their employees a wage that will allow them to live and thrive in this county.”

The Council’s vice chair Joe McDermott also lent his support to this proposal, saying, “I am eager to take on a justice issue of our time. Hardworking King County residents who continue to struggle to make ends meet deserve better.”

The motion would also direct King County Executive Dow Constantine to prepare a report and present to the Council legislation to carry out the policy by no later than Sept. 1. The report would be expected to “address the benefits of setting a minimum level of compensation, exemptions to consider, fiscal impact, and whether the County should set a minimum wage for unincorporated King County and at the King County International Airport.”

The Council is acting on a December 2013 report compiled by the Alliance for a Just Society, which found that Washington state’s minimum wage of $9.32 per hour (the highest state rate in the country) was 42 percent less than a living wage, which is defined as “wages sufficient to meet a family’s basic needs without public assistance, and provide for some ability to meet emergencies,” for a single adult, and 58 percent less than a living wage for a single adult with a school-age child.

David Rolf, president of SEIU Healthcare 775NW, said this motion is a step in the right direction for King County residents.

“Working people across King County have been left behind by employers that fail to keep the promise that a day’s work will lead to success,” Rolf said. “When government lifts wages to a living wage, everyone benefits. Workers are able to feed their families, pay rent and save, and local businesses make more because the workers have money to spend.”

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