Washington State’s minimum wage continues to lead the nation. On January 1, 2011 it will increase 12 cents per hour to $8.67 per hour. As reported by Rachael La Corte in today’s Seattle Times, an attempt by business interests in Washington State to challenge the 12 cent increase was rejected by a Kittitas County Judge after a motion for summary judgement to prevent it going into effect on Saturday. The lawsuit still remains active according to the article.
Groups challenging the minimum wage increase included the Washington Restaurant Association, the Washington Farm Bureau and the Washington Retail Association.
According to the article:
A Seattle-based lawyer for Justice for Immigrant Workers said the increase is “a big deal for a lot of people.”
“That 12-cent raise goes further than you think,” Rebecca Smith said. “It’s going to make a difference of a few dollars a week — but a few dollars a week buys an extra loaf of bread, another gallon of milk or a gallon of gas.”
The agency’s decision in October to raise the rate came after conflicting legal opinions from the state attorney general and the authors of the 1998 voter initiative that tied the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index.
The current Federal minimum wage is only $7.25 and has no consumer inflation index adjustment which means that each time inflation goes up nationally, jobs tied to the federal minimum wage see decreased purchasing power for the hours worked. Republicans have consistently opposed Federal minimum wage increases while Democrats have supported them.
Ten states have minimum wages that adjust to index them to inflation. Washington State was the first state to enact legislation to automatically raise the minimum wage based on increases in the consumer price index. The voters enacted the current law by passing Initiative 688 in 1998.
As noted on the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries website:
Initiative 688, approved by Washington voters in 1998, requires L&I to make a cost-of-living adjustment to its minimum wage each year based on the federal Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). This measures the average change in prices on a fixed group of goods and services such as food, shelter, medical care, transportation and other goods and services people purchase for day-to-day living. L&I recalculates the state’s minimum wage in September, and it takes effect the following year on January 1.
The minimum wage in Washington State was $8.55 in 2009 and stayed the same in 2010 because of a decrease in inflation. The minimum wage will increase to $8.67 on Jan 1, 2011. It will be the highest in the nation.
In this year’s Senate election in Washington State, Republican Dino Rossi, supported lowering the minimum wage. Other Republicans this year publicly supported lowering the minimum wage. Amanda Getchel notes that:
Republican candidates Joe Miller of Alaska, John Raese of West Virginia, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Linda McMahon of Connecticut have all called for reducing the minimum wage with Raese flat out saying it should be eliminated.
Only Rand Paul was elected by the voters.
The current Federal minimum wage law was passed in 2007. Washington State Republicans Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Doc Hastings joined with other Republicans nationally to oppose the bill. All 233 Democrats in the House at the time joined with 82 Republicans to support the legislation. 116 Republicans in the House voted no. They include 9 of the incoming 12 members of the House leadership.
Of the members of the incoming House leadership,
Speaker of the House: Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)- VOTED NO
Majority Leader: Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) – VOTED NO
Majority Whip: Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) – VOTED NO
Conference Chairman: Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) – VOTED NO
NRCC Chairman: Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) – VOTED NO
Policy Committee Chairman: Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) – VOTED NO
Conference Vice-Chair: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) – VOTED NO
Conference Secretary: Rep. John Carter (R-TX) – VOTED NO
Freshman Representative: Rep.-elect Kristi Noem (R-SD) – NOT IN CONGRESS AT TIME
Freshman Representative: Rep.-elect Tim Scott (R-SC) – NOT IN CONGRESS AT TIME
Rules Committee Representative: Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) – VOTED NO
Chairman of the Leadership: Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) – VOTED YES
Nine of the 12 House Leadership members voted no to raise the minimum wage. Two other members of the incoming House leadership were not in Congress at the time. Only Greg Walden voted NO – Oregon voters previously passed an initiative to index their minimum wage to inflation. Oregon’s minimum wage is near the top in the country.
Prospects for any Federal increase in the minimum wage in the near future looks difficult as long as Republicans control the House.
As noted in a separate article in the Seattle Times seven states will see an increase in their minimum wage in 2011.
Poverty advocates say the rising minimum wages shouldn’t be seen as raises, just adjustments to keep the working poor at the same level as prices of goods rise.
The National Employment Law Project, a New York-based advocate for workers, estimates that about 647,000 people will see their paychecks go up in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
Three other states with their minimum wage indexed to inflation did not see enough of an increase to see a rise in their minimum wage – Florida, Nevada and Missouri.
In the near term any increase in the minimum wage will probably have to take place at the state level. In previous initiative efforts to raise the minimum wage in Washington State voters have strongly supported raising the minimum wage. Initiative 688 in 1998 was approved by Washington voters by a 66% yes vote. A previous vote to raise the minimum wage in 1988, Initiative 518, passed with a 77% yes vote. It was not indexed to inflation.