A screenshot of King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn speaking about a proposed amendment for the proposed $20 minimum wage ordinance. (Screenshot)

A screenshot of King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn speaking about a proposed amendment for the proposed $20 minimum wage ordinance. (Screenshot)

King County approves $20.29 minimum wage for unincorporated areas

Councilmember Reagan Dunn and more than a dozen business owners argued tips and health care expenses should be a part of the new wage. The council passed the ordinance without the amendment.

The King County Council passed an ordinance that will raise the hourly minimum wage in unincorporated areas to $20.29.

The May 14 public comment on the issue was a long one, as the effects of increasing the minimum wage could have a large ripple effect in the county — business owners are worried that they’ll have to cut staff and raise prices in order to stay in business.

The ordinance passed 7-2, with Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer voting no.

The full effect of this ordinance will only begin immediately for businesses with 500 or more employees on Jan. 1, 2025.

Smaller businesses could increase their wages more slowly. Businesses with more than 15 employees (but fewer than 500) will have to start paying an $18.29 minimum wage, and businesses with 15 employees or less and make less than $2 million in gross revenue can start off with a $17.29 minimum wage. These wages will increase incrementally until 2030, when all businesses will pay the new minimum wage, plus inflation adjustments.

Most of the discussion revolved around an amendment, put forward by Dunn, that would have included tips, gratuities, and employer health care premium expenses in the new minimum wage.

The amendment failed 6-2, with one absent.

Another amendment by Dunn would have limited the minimum wage increase to unincorporated businesses in urban areas, not rural areas.

The amendment also failed 6-2.

Another amendment from Councilmember Girmay Zahilay to allow individual franchises with less than 400 employees, but more than 15, to also stair-step that minimum wage increase was adopted.

A fourth amendment by Councilmember Sarah Perry was passed, which extended the deadline for a report on how the county could further support unincorporated farmers from the end of 2024 to June 2025 in order to gather the most data possible. This amendment was approved unanimously.

The final amendment from Councilmember Claudia Balducci to require a report on the impact of the minimum wage increase overall, to be due in 2028, was also approved unanimously.

PUBLIC COMMENT

Restaurants may especially feel the hit as the average profit margin is between 3% and 5%, according to multiple restaurant industry reports.

More than a dozen people, including Cascadia Pizza owners and workers, and several others from different types of businesses, testified at the King County Council meeting. And while some called the bill ridiculous, no one asked for it to be killed.

However, all asked for an amendment that would include the “total compensation” amendment. Doing so, they argued, would mean they wouldn’t have to cut their employees’ hours in order to stay in business, which would have the opposite effect that the council is aiming to achieve.

“This bill as written will decimate [worker] income,” one Cascadia Pizza representative said.

Some farmers like Enumclaw dairy farmer Leann Krainick are also worried, since the prices of some products — like milk — are determined by the federal government, so they can’t raise their prices to compensate for a higher wage for their lower-level employees.

Several others argued against the total compensation amendment. One said that tips and other basic benefits don’t pay the rent, and some workers — young ones with a first jobs especially, another said — need these on top of their wages to get by, despite their unpredictability.

The 25% pay boost for workers (the previously scheduled 2024 minimum wage for unincorporated King County is $16.28, which is Washington state’s minimum wage) could help them get closer to what’s considered a “living wage,” which is defined by making enough money to be self-sustaining while also being able to afford basic needs.

According to the Living Wage Calculator, run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a family of two working adults with two children would have to make just over $36 to meet the living wage standard in King County.


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