An estimated 80,000 people who work in Seattle will be getting a raise January 1st as the city continues its long march to a $15 per hour minimum wage. That accounts for nearly 15% of the city’s workforce of 540,000. Even more could see other new benefits surrounding sick leave.
The wage increases are only part of the good news for workers. In 2016, Washington voters approved I-1433 expanding mandatory sick leave statewide. Some benefits in the initiative are more generous than those granted under city regulations, explained Karina Bull, of the city’s Office of Labor Standards.
Some of the new benefits include allowing people to take sick time to care for children of any age (the old rules only allowed for time to help minor children) and also to help siblings and grandchildren. The waiting period to qualify for paid sick time will be reduced from 180 to 90 days. Caps on the use of sick time will be forbidden. There will no longer be an exemption for employees engaged in a work-study program.
In some cases, the Seattle benefits are more generous, and will remain in place.
Bull said the City Council will likely soon consider an ordinance to implement the more generous state standards, where appropriate. Reviewing the city’s charts laying out the various changes (PDF) have become an end of the year Seattle small business tradition.
Meanwhile, in 2018, more workers will be getting more money.
In 2014, the city imposed the new higher wage law championed by City Council member Kshama Sawant and embraced by Mayor Ed Murray, which calls for increasing pay rates gradually with different levels for large and small employers, and for employers who provide some other kinds of compensation for their workers. Last year, CHS looked at the first wave of large employers reaching the $15 minimum wage mark.
Starting New Year’s Day, all employers with 500 or more employees will meet the mark and must pay their workers at least $15 per hour (about $30,000 per year for full-time employees — assuming a 40-hour work week). Employers of that size who do not provide health insurance will pay $15.45 per hour.
Small employers, including most businesses on Capitol Hill will pay either $14 or $11.50 per hour. The lower rate is available to employers who offer health insurance, or whose employees receive tips. In that case, the amount of tips or benefits must be worth at least $2.50 per hour, bringing their effective wage to at least $14.
For reference, the state minimum wage for 2018 will be $11.50 per hour, the highest statewide rate in the nation. The federal minimum wage, unchanged since 2009, is $7.25 per hour — $14,500 per year, assuming a 40-hour work week. The federal rate is the minimum wage in 21 states.
Many businesses have grown accustomed to the gradual changes and aren’t particularly concerned with what’s on tap this year, said Tracy Taylor, general manager of Elliott Bay Book Company, and incoming co-chair of the mayor’s newly appointed small business council.
“I’m not hearing a whole lot,” Taylor said.
The bigger change will come in 2021, when the final group of employers, including Elliott Bay, will reach the $15.00 per hour milestone. That year, wages will jump by $1.50 per hour for the second year in a row, as opposed to the more gradual 50 cent annual increases up to that point, Taylor pointed out.
“Naturally, we’re watching that,” she said.
She expects her store to have some issues different from the food and drink industry, which has featured in many of the discussion about higher wages. Books, Taylor notes, have prices printed on the covers, where a restaurant has more direct control over what it charges.
Taylor stressed that Elliott Bay is supportive of the $15 per hour standard, but she does have some reservations about the current discussions. For example, the wage isn’t actually fully phased-in. There have already been multiple studies of the effects of the wage, and partisans from both sides of the issue have latched onto bits of data to support their preconceived positions.
“But we aren’t actually at $15, yet,” Taylor notes. “We’re a long way from $15 on the smallest businesses.”
While she supports the higher wage, she wonders if it’s actually having the desired effect of helping low-wage workers catch up. Since rents are climbing so quickly, Taylor wonders if the higher wages, and then some, are simply being spent on housing. Without doing something about the housing cost side of the equation, Taylor fears workers won’t be seeing the relief the increase is intended to supply.
“My question is, ‘Is this just getting sucked up by the landlords?’” she said.
Have questions about 2018?
Bull said her office stands ready to help employees, and employers, understand the changes.
If you are an employee and you believe you are not being compensated correctly, contact the Office of Labor Standards at 206-256-5297 or email [email protected]. Complaints will be routed to an investigator. Bull said her office will make every effort to protect the identity of those who complain about their employer. Employees can also file suit in court, though that would likely result in their identity being made public.
If you are an employer and have questions about how to implement the rules, call that same number listed above. Bull said employers who call will have their questions answered and their information will not be automatically passed along to the enforcement group.
Additionally, the office is sponsoring a series of webinars about the rule changes.