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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Statewide minimum wage of $12 debated

OLYMPIA – Raising Washington’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2019 was described Monday as too much for some businesses and not enough for some workers.

Representatives of grocery stores, restaurants and farms told the House Labor Committee they would lose customers if they raised their rates or prices to pay higher wages.

“I would be competing with Idaho,” said JoReen Brinkman, who owns four restaurants in Pullman with her husband. “It would be very easy for my customers to drive across the border.”

Idaho uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

But Luke Bridges, a part-time restaurant worker and student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, said he struggles to support himself and pay off his college loans. A phased-in raise to $12 an hour might be “too little, too late” for workers like him.

Washington state’s minimum wage, $9.47 an hour, is currently the highest of any state in the nation, although some cities have higher minimums. The House proposal, which has 41 Democrats as co-sponsors, would bump the state minimum to $10 at the start of next year, $10.50 in 2017, $11 in 2018 and $12 in 2019. Local jurisdictions could set higher minimums.

Jasmine Donovan of Dick’s Drive-In in Seattle said an across-the-board increase in what’s essentially a starting wage doesn’t make sense. Instead, the state could mandate increases for other things, such as a raise for graduating from high school or getting a GED, and another raise for completing training or earning a certificate from a community college.

But Tiffany Turner, the owner of Adrift Hotel in Long Beach, Washington, said higher wages that help employees survive is “the responsible thing to do.” She said the hotel already pays $14.

Along with considering a raise in the minimum wage, the committee also took testimony on a separate bill requiring businesses to offer paid sick leave. The testimony for and against both bills was similar. Business representatives said it would put them at a disadvantage with competitors in other states or countries, or with large conglomerates that can spread their costs over many states. Workers said they have to come to work sick because they can’t afford a day off without pay.

Business owners like Turner who spoke in favor of either bill were challenged by Republicans on the committee who said they were free to pay more or offer better benefits as a way to attract and keep good workers. Turner countered, saying the state should lead the way with responsible workplace legislation.

The Labor Committee is expected to vote on whether to send the two bills to the full House later this week.

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