Opinion: Why we’re fighting for a raise for Renton workers

Renton voters will decide this November on a minimum wage increase, proposing a $19-an-hour wage starting in July 2024 for large employers.

By Tom Barnard, Livey Beha, Guillermo Zazueta and Michael Westgaard

This November, Renton voters will vote on a minimum wage increase for nearly 10,000 low-wage workers, proposing a $19/hour wage starting in July 2024 for large employers. There’s a 2-year phase-in period for small and medium businesses, and the smallest of businesses are exempt, adjusting annually by rate of inflation.

Raise the Wage Renton is a coalition of community organizations, labor unions, businesses, elected officials, Renton residents and workers. We are proposing this initiative to improve the quality of life for Renton workers. Renton employs nearly 60,000 workers within its city limits, 15% of which are earning wages below $19/hour.

Our goal is to ensure that every new job gained from growth in Renton provides a living wage. Without this, job growth without wage growth results in productivity gains for the employer, while low-wage workers continue to have to work multiple jobs just to get by.

Our campaign has spoken with thousands of Renton residents expressing support for this campaign. We hope to address some concerns here related to this initiative’s impact on our unique Renton economy.

The smallest businesses under 15 employees (or less than $2 million in revenue) are completely exempt from the statute, meaning that many family-owned and micro businesses will not be directly affected. Medium-sized businesses with 15 employees or greater shall have a multi-year phase-in period until July 2026. Businesses with over 500 employees will be the first to increase wages in July 2024. Further details regarding enforcement and implementation can be found reading the full initiative text.

Raising wages does not mean that overall costs to businesses or goods will rise. According to an early analysis of Seattle’s $15 wage law by the University of Washington, researchers found “little or no evidence of price increases in Seattle relative to the surrounding area”. Another follow-up study in 2019 analyzed the impact on supermarket food prices, indicating “no significant evidence of price increases associated with the minimum wage ordinance”.

Additionally, as published by the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 2019, comparing 128 prominent state-level minimum wage changes between 1979 and 2013, researchers found no evidence of job losses as a result of minimum wage increases, while confirming the positive earnings effects for low-wage workers as a result of these reforms.

Renton workers and businesses have the most to benefit from a minimum wage increase, considering that raising wages would offset the recent inflation-generated losses in worker purchasing power since the start of the pandemic. The study above shows that local economies that raise wages experience more growth than those who don’t. Given that higher wages lead to greater income gains for struggling families barely able to make ends meet, this money will be re-circulated back to the local economy, which in turn will help local business revenue.

We’re fighting to ensure working families can afford to live and work in Renton. We ask for your support by signing our petition to place this initiative on the ballot. Please visit our website at www.raisethewagerenton.org to learn more!