In March, I started volunteering for the Raise Up Washington campaign by becoming a signature collector for Initiative 1433, which would help over one million Washingtonians by gradually increasing the minimum wage statewide and providing them with paid sick and safe leave.
Some of you might ask: didn’t we just raise the minimum wage in Washington?
No, not in the entire state. We only raised the minimum wage in Seattle and SeaTac to $15/hour. The rest of our state – from Olympia to Yakima and Bellingham to Vancouver – is still stuck with a dismal $9.47 minimum wage. This is hardly a livable income workers who are struggling to support themselves and their families.
I-1433 raises the minimum wage gradually over the next four years to $13.50 for all Washington workers. It also mandates that workers receive seven paid sick or safe days per calendar year (which equates to one hour of paid sick or safe leave per 40 hours worked).
For people who sometimes get sick or have to take care of sick loved ones (i.e., everyone), paid sick days are a lifesaver. Many of us take our sick days for granted, but 1 million Washington workers receive zero paid sick leave. Imagine being a single parent working a minimum wage job who has an ailing child and cannot afford childcare. This parent must make a ridiculous choice – do they leave the sick kid to fend for themselves in order to make ends meet? Or risk their job and lose vital income to stay home and care for their family?
No one should have to make this choice. And yet, people are forced to do so every day in this state. Because we simply don’t offer a living minimum wage to Washington workers.
Let’s talk about the incredible benefit that low-wage workers would receive with a minimum wage bump. For a family of three, the poverty wage is $9.65/hour. That’s 18 cents more than what we are paying the low wage workers in our state. Yikes! And without a living wage, these workers are sinking further and further away from the American dream (and the middle class).
But this is not only a class issue – it is a race and gender issue as well. Over 40% of Black and Latinx workers earn less than $13.50 an hour, and far more female workers than males earn minimum wage.
What about small business? Cries the voices from the back. Well, that’s a legitimate question with a (somewhat) simple answer. Research has proven that raising the minimum wage has NO discernible impact on employment levels – which means that employers are not forced to fire their workers because of a raised wage. This is the case because of a number of other means by which small employers can compensate for paying high wages – and yes, that often includes a minuscule increase (about 0.4%) in prices. But what you probably don’t know is that these same employers often enjoy the benefits of lower turnover rates and greater worker satisfaction because of a wage bump.
Safe leave is the least discussed component of I-1433, but is vitally important. Safe leave means paid time off for workers who are suffering from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. They can use this time to move out of an abuser’s house, attend to issues in court, file restraining orders, work with law enforcement, to find a safe house, and much more – without losing work that they desperately need. The fact that we are not already providing these services to Washington state DV and rape victims appalls me.
When I was assaulted by my ex, I had to take time off from work because of physical and emotional trauma, to move out of my abuser’s home, and to go to court. I didn’t receive any pay for this time. It was only by the grace of my deeply generous family that I stayed afloat financially.
For many survivors of DV and rape, I-1433 could mean a real chance of escaping their abuser and/or getting justice. In this way, a vote for paid safe days is a bonafide lifesaver.
I commend the Raise Up Washington campaign, and I urge you to sign I-1433, so that the measure will appear on the ballot this fall. We need at least 250,000 signatures to qualify.
Look for volunteers all over the state collecting signatures, visit the Raise Up Washington headquarters, or get in touch with me directly – I’ll bring you the petition to sign! And come November, make your vote count by voting for working families.
For more, check out this KIRO news story about the campaign featuring yours truly. 😉