After months of active campaigning and engaging with the community, the organizers of the Raise the Wage Renton initiative are on the verge of qualifying for the November ballot.
Their aim is to increase Renton’s minimum wage to approximately $19 per hour, bringing it closer to the minimum wages in neighboring cities like Seattle, SeaTac, and Tukwila.
Supporters of the initiative argue that the current state minimum wage of $15.74 per hour is insufficient to keep up with the escalating housing costs and high inflation prevalent in the region.
They emphasize that many individuals who can no longer afford to live in Seattle are relocating to South King County, where the rising rents pose a significant challenge. According to E.
Bailey Medilo, a board member of the Raise the Wage Renton campaign, it has become nearly impossible for families to sustain themselves on minimum wage salaries in this area.
This initiative draws inspiration from a previously successful campaign in Tukwila, where voters approved a measure to align the city’s minimum wage with that of SeaTac. The approved measure mandated large employers to pay their workers approximately $19 per hour, starting from July 1.
The proposal received overwhelming support, with over 82% of the vote in favor.
In Seattle, the minimum wage ranges between $16.50 and $18.69 per hour, depending on the nature of the job. As for SeaTac, transportation and hospitality workers have a minimum wage of $19.06 per hour.
If approved by voters, the proposed initiative in Renton would raise the minimum wage for employers with over 500 employees to match Tukwila’s minimum wage, which will be $18.99 for large employers starting in July 2023.
The minimum wage would be adjusted annually to account for inflation.
Opposition to raising the minimum wage typically revolves around concerns about potential job losses and increased prices for consumers.
Findings from various studies have presented differing perspectives. A 2017 study conducted by the University of Washington revealed that Seattle’s higher minimum wage resulted in a reduction of low-wage jobs and fewer working hours.
On the other hand, a 2018 study from the University of California, Berkeley, which examined six cities, including Seattle, found that increased wage floors did not lead to widespread job losses.
Additionally, a 2023 UC Berkeley study analyzing 47 large U.S. counties that had reached a $15 minimum wage by 2021 discovered that higher wages actually stimulated job growth. The impact on prices was found to be mixed and generally minimal.
The Renton measure includes an exemption for businesses with fewer than 15 employees. Employers with 500 or fewer workers would have a phased-in implementation period, gradually reaching the minimum wage rate for large employers by July 2026.
The precise number of workers in the city who would be affected by the wage increase remains unclear. However, supporters of the initiative highlight that many hourly workers are employed at locations such as The Landing shopping center, grocery stores, car dealerships, and businesses along Renton’s downtown corridor.
Organizers argue that higher wages would benefit low-income families, immigrants, and older adults relying on fixed incomes. Census data shows that of the approximately 105,000 people residing in Renton, over half are people of color, and around 28% are foreign-born.
While the median household income is approximately $84,000, about 1 in 5 households earn less than $40,000 per year.
According to estimates from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a King County worker earning the state’s minimum wage would need to work 103 hours per week in order to afford a one-bedroom apartment.
The MIT Living Wage Calculator indicates that an individual without children would require a wage of around $21 per hour to afford to live in the Seattle metro area. For two working adults with two children, each adult would need to earn approximately $29 per hour.
Residents have expressed concerns about the potential for higher minimum wages to result in increased consumer prices. Guillermo Zazueta, the chair of the Raise the Wage Renton campaign, acknowledges this as the most sensitive point for many people.
Zazueta emphasizes the need for wages to keep pace with regional wage standards due to the significant inflation rates experienced.
During the Tukwila campaign, there was no organized opposition, and no one came forward to write the opposing statement on the ballot, according to Katie Wilson, the general secretary of the Transit Riders Union, which spearheaded the ballot measure.
Wilson highlights the remarkable shift in public opinion during the Tukwila campaign, stating that the issue of raising the minimum wage transcends political affiliations and becomes a bipartisan, working-class concern.
The push for an increased minimum wage extends beyond Renton in the Seattle area. Organizers in Burien and unincorporated King County are actively lobbying council members to pass ordinances that would raise the minimum wage, according to Katie Wilson.
Wilson expresses her hope for the success of these efforts, as she believes it would be beneficial to see this movement spread to as many places as possible.
In order to qualify for the November ballot, the petition in Renton must gather signatures from approximately 9,000 people, which amounts to 15% of the city’s active registered voters. These signatures need to be certified by the county elections office by August 1st.