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Washington law on minimum wage looking like template for U.S. reformers

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on March 15, 2013 at 8:32 am with No Comments »
March 15, 2013 7:01 pm

A news report this morning suggests that the Washington’s approach to setting the minimum wage – now the nation’s highest at $9.19 an hour – is a model for other states going forward. The report by Pamela Prah says 10 states are looking at increases and some are using an index tied to inflation that would keep the minimum rising over time.

That is exactly what Washington voters approved in 1998 by approving an initiative sponsored by the Washington State Labor Council. As Prah wrote:

“Indexing is certainly the trend in the states,” says Jen Kern, the minimum wage campaign coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for the poor. State minimum wage proposals with indexing provisions are moving in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, New York and Minnesota.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already mandate an hourly wage higher than the current federal $7.25 rate, including populous states such as California, Florida and Ohio. The states with the highest minimum wages are Washington and Oregon, which have wage floors of $9.19 and $8.95, respectively.

Despite the trend, Washington’s Legislature did toy with the idea of cutting an exemption into the state wage law this year. But in the end, two bills lowering the Washington minimum wage for job trainees died at Wednesday’s bill cutoff.

The two measures – Senate Bill 5275 and House Bill 1150 – were backed by small business and restaurant groups, allowing a temporary lower minimum wage for teens.

In contrast, Prah wrote:

At least 10 states are considering raising their minimum wages even as President Obama’s proposal to increase the federal standard is stuck in Washington’s political quagmire. In one of those states, New Jersey, voters rather than legislators will decide the issue. A measure that will be on the ballot this fall would increase the state’s minimum wage by $1, to $8.25. …

Obama endorsed indexing when he pressed for a $9 federal minimum wage in his State of the Union address: “Here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year—let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.” …

In a shot at their Republican counterparts, a few House Democrats introduced a bill recently in Olympia that would have offered a training wage for legislators. The bill ultimately was withdrawn and its text pulled down from the Legislature’s web site.

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