The King County Council will decide Sept. 29 whether to require its contractors to pay all employees a living wage in 2015.
The ordinance would require any company with a county contract worth more than $100,000 to pay employees the same wage as required by the city of Seattle’s new minimum wage law.
The Seattle City Council approved a citywide minimum wage earlier this year that requires employers to pay people at least $11 an hour beginning April 2015. The wage would gradually increase over several years, depending on the size of the company.
County employees already make a living wage, county officials say.
It’s unclear how many contracted employees would receive a raise.
The county currently has more than 1,000 contracts. None of those contracts would have to follow the proposed ordinance until they are renewed after 2015.
King County Council President Larry Phillips supported the ordinance at a Sept. 16 meeting, saying that it’s “sending a very strong sign to the larger county that King County is doing its part.”
Councilmembers Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert were not ready to support the ordinance. Hague said she needed more time to study the recent changes made to the ordinance, but that she may vote for it later this month.
Lambert said she was concerned about unintended consequences. She proposed an amendment, which was approved, to have County Executive Dow Constantine study whether the ordinance would create pressure to increase wages that are already above $15 an hour.
Ben Henry, senior policy associate for the Alliance for a Just Society, said the ordinance is stronger than living-wage ordinances passed in 125 other jurisdictions. But he said that $15 an hour still does not pay Seattle workers what they need to live in the city.
A single person living in Seattle needs to make about $17 an hour to pay for rent, food and still have money for savings, according to an August report by the Alliance called “Families out of Balance.”
“That’s assuming you don’t have kids and childcare costs,” Henry said. “That tells us that $15 still falls short.”
Henry described the county ordinance as a modest step in the right direction.
Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who proposed the county ordinance in February, said that the law could affect a lot of people, as it applies to anyone doing work for King County, whether they are based in the region or not.
The council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee approved the legislation Sept. 16. Councilmembers Dembowski, Phillips, Dave Upthegrove and Joe McDermott voted in favor; Councilmembers Lambert and Hague opposed.
The county is following Seattle’s minimum-wage proposal, meaning wages will increase incrementally over several years. Employers with more than 500 employees will have to provide $15 an hour by 2017. Employers with fewer than 500 will have until 2021 if they provide health insurance to employees and 2019 if they don’t.
The county proposal comes on the heels of several minimum-wage efforts around the region. Earlier this year, in the city of SeaTac, a union-backed campaign established a $15-an-hour minimum wage for hospitality workers that took effect Jan. 1. The Washington Supreme Court will determine if the minimum wage law also applies to people working at Sea-Tac Airport, which is in the city of SeaTac but under the jurisdiction of the Port of Seattle.