Washington voters have approved Initiative 1433, which increases the minimum wage and mandates paid sick leave in Washington. As Opportunity Washington notes, this is part of a broader national strategy. Washington’s minimum wage has been the highest state minimum wage in the nation for years—until this year. Next year, thanks to I-1433, it will return to the top, and will remain there until 2020 (if current law in the states stands). This Wall Street Journal article has a good graphic showing minimum wages by state through 2022.
How will I-1433 be implemented and how will it interact with ordinances already on the books in certain Washington cities?
Under the initiative, the state minimum wage will increase to $11.00 on Jan. 1, 2017, to $11.50 on Jan. 1, 2018, to $12.00 on Jan. 1, 2019, and to $13.50 on Jan. 1, 2020. Paid sick leave will kick in on Jan. 1, 2018. (See our special report for more details.)
Importantly, the initiative does not preempt local governments from enacting labor standards that are more favorable to employees. Seattle and Tacoma have minimum wages higher than the current state law (as does SeaTac for certain workers). Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane already have paid sick leave laws on the books (as does SeaTac for certain workers).
The chart shows our projections of the minimum wage through 2025 in Seattle, Tacoma, and the state. Seattle’s minimum will be either the same or higher than the state minimum in every year. Tacoma’s minimum starts out higher than that of the state, but will be lower than the state minimum beginning in 2020 (given current inflation projections). So employers in Seattle will continue to pay Seattle’s minimum wage. Employers in Tacoma will pay Tacoma’s minimum until 2020 (probably).
The Seattle Times editorial board applauds I-1433’s approval but argues,
When the Legislature returns in January, it should consider slowing implementation for lower-cost rural areas, which are less able than booming Seattle to quickly absorb jumps in the cost of labor. Restaurants and retail businesses will need time to adjust. The Legislature should also require a robust research study to tease out the impacts of a higher minimum wage.
(Under the state constitution, amending an initiative within two years of enactment requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.)
To be sure, as we noted in our special report on I-1433, counties in central Washington will be most affected because more of the jobs in these counties are paid less than $13.50. The Times has a county map of Washington showing where the minimum wage increase will have the most impact. For example, while 7.8 percent of full-time equivalent jobs in King County make less than $13.50, 30.5 percent of those in Yakima County do.
Meanwhile, the News Tribune reports that although Tacoma's minimum wage will be surpassed by the state’s in a few years, that may not be the last word:
Alan Stancliff, who was an organizer with the group that lobbied last year for Tacoma to raise its minimum wage to $15 immediately, said he wouldn’t be surprised if Tacoma sees another push for $15 in the next couple of years. He said the next proposal might learn from 15 Now Tacoma’s defeat at the hands of an alternative $12 phased-in wage proposal.
“Just from a tactical point of view, if it comes up again my personal opinion is I wouldn’t object real strongly to a one-year phase-in and the reason isn’t that I favor a one-year phase-in, but I think it might be a little easier sell,” Stancliff said.
The minimum wage changes are fairly straightforward, but paid sick leave is more complicated. The table below shows how different the various paid sick leave ordinances are.
The News Tribune notes,
It’s too early to know which of the laws will prevail in Tacoma because I-1433 doesn’t spell out all of the details for paid leave.
Those details will have to be worked out in a rule-making process, according to a Labor & Industries spokesman.
But Tacoma workers stand only to benefit. In Washington state, if there are two or more laws that cover employment law, the one most beneficial to the employee applies.
Spokane’s paid sick leave law is due to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017. The Spokesman-Review reports, “Two potentially conflicting policies, one taking effect next year and the other in 2018, are causing some concern among local businesses about meeting different standards.”
According to the Spokesman-Review, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said, “ 'We’re going to make it easy for everybody and just repeal ours' at the end of 2017.”
Todd Mielke, executive director of Greater Spokane Inc., said his organization was also concerned about “disrupting” businesses with multiple policies over a 14-month period. Mielke said the city should work to make its policy more consistent with the statewide initiative if they want to implement sick leave requirements next year.
Indeed, although employers across the state are used to minimum wage law, paid sick leave is a whole new ballgame for many. Additionally, the significant technical differences between paid sick leave laws could prove tricky to sort out.