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Renton minimum wage initiative leading after initial ballot count

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Update: Renton minimum wage initiative leading after initial ballot count

The city of Renton may be getting a higher minimum wage. As of Wednesday's ballot count, the measure to hike worker pay is leading by a healthy margin — 57.1% in favor, and 42.9% opposed.

Large businesses in Renton will need to offer $20.29 an hour if it ultimately passes. Advocates say it will be a big help to workers who are struggling to pay rent. David Hill who owns Fortune Casino and Fortune Poker in Renton told KUOW he has mixed feelings, however.

“It's the tipped employees that are really getting the boon here. My average tipped employee is making over $50 an hour," Hill said.

Those tipped employees (such as card dealers) are currently at the state minimum wage of $16.28 per hour, so the new rate would be a boost. Hill’s lowest-paid employees, like dishwashers, already make at least $20 an hour, so they won’t get much more.

The owner of Renton's Rose Gift House and Coffee in Renton Katie Newman told KUOW that she favors the wage hike, though as a small business, her shop would be except from the new rate. She recently gave her employees a $1.50 raise to match the state minimum.

"I kind of live with philosophy that if a job exists in society, the person who does it deserves a living wage," Newman said.

Original post published Feb. 12, 2024

If voters say yes this week, Renton's minimum wage could rise to be the highest in the nation, matching its higher-paying neighbor Tukwila.

"We see that businesses are increasing their prices to keep up with inflation, and what we're seeing on the other side of that is wages remain stagnant," said Guillermo Zazueta, who is spearheading the campaign for Initiative 23-02.

RELATED: Seattle now has highest minimum wage of any major city in the United States

Zazueta argues that the wage hike for large employers is needed due skyrocketing costs for housing and other basic needs in the area.

"We have tens of thousands of working families in Renton that are working long hours, maybe two to three jobs, trying to make ends meet. And we are leaving those folks behind," he said.

Renton's current minimum wage is set at the state's rate of $16.28. Under the proposal, the rate for large Renton employers would increase by nearly 25% to $20.29 per hour. Small and medium businesses would pay $18.29, but this rate would be phased up to the higher pay within two years. Businesses with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt. The wage would also be adjusted for inflation each year. If approved, the new rate would hit paychecks in July.

The proposal has its critics, however, such as the Renton Chamber of Commerce, which has backed a counter-campaign to the proposal. It argues that raising the local minimum wage will, in turn, push prices even higher in town, as local businesses pass the increased cost to customers.

CEO Diane Dobson also says that the wage hike would lead to job losses in Renton and reduced hours for employees. She adds that many Renton businesses are still struggling due to the pandemic and with inflation.

The Chamber's No On 23-02 website, further points to Seattle, where the raised minimum wage did not solve the affordability crisis.

"Household incomes have already increased significantly in Renton, while the cost of living has skyrocketed. This proposal will only widen the gap by causing the costs of groceries, restaurant meals, childcare, and other goods and services to increase even more for everyone."

Ballots for this special election are due in drop boxes or postmarked by no later than 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Washington state's minimum wage rose to $16.28 per hour at the start of 2024, a 3.4% increase over the previous year. But some jurisdictions have opted to raise local wages even higher in an effort to compete for employees and help alleviate the high costs of living in the region.

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The city of SeaTac has been raising its local minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers for many years, at times boasting the highest wage in the nation. Just up the road, Tukwila voters approved a measure in 2022 that set that city's minimum wage to match SeaTac's, and to raise it annually according to inflation. Tukwila currently has the highest minimum wage in the USA.

The ripple effect has now reached Renton, where the current initiative states that the city would copy Tukwila's rate.

In late 2023, a proposal to increase the minimum wage in unincorporated King County to $18.99 was introduced. The County Council is still considering the bill.

This post previously stated that King County approved a 2023 bill to increase its minimum wage. That proposal is still under consideration by the County Council.

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