Poll: 69 percent of Olympia voters want $15 minimum wage

About 69 percent of Olympia voters support the establishment of a $15 minimum wage in the city, with the same number saying they would likely vote yes on such an initiative, according to a poll released this week.

The poll was conducted Jan. 22-25 by Patinkin Research Strategies, a research firm based in Portland, Oregon. According to the firm, 400 registered voters in Olympia were interviewed via telephone about their preferences for a $15 minimum wage.

The poll sampled people who were likely to vote in 2015, and about 65 percent were over age 50, said Ben Patinkin, president of the research firm.

Participants were asked how strongly they supported or opposed a proposed $15 minimum wage in Olympia. Among the findings:

The poll was paid for by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21 and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775.

The results are arriving just before Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law takes effect April 1, starting with the first of several incremental increases over the next seven years.

Although the higher minimum wage has generated controversy for its potential strain on businesses and consumers, some say the tide of public opinion has turned for this politically charged issue.

“Increasing minimum wage to $15 an hour is possible and reasonable in a way people might not have seen it three or four years ago,” said Adam Glickman, secretary-treasurer for SEIU 775, noting that the union hopes to see Olympia move forward with a new minimum wage policy.

In Olympia, discussions began last fall in the finance and general government committees. Olympia City Councilmember Jim Cooper, who belongs to both committees, said the next step is to find “the right number” for a higher minimum wage in the city — even if that number isn’t $15 an hour.

Input from small businesses is crucial, he said, noting that about 80 percent of the city’s businesses have fewer than 10 employees.

“My primary motivation is to look at how people can afford to live and work in our community,” he said.

Cooper said he hopes the council can channel local conversation into a policy that works, especially for small businesses.

“It comes down to building a policy in Olympia that most of our broader community can live with,” Cooper said. “For me, the ideal situation would have a federal or state wage hike that brings us toward a living wage.”

According to the city’s comprehensive plan, a living wage for single adults is $13.64 an hour.

Washington’s minimum wage — $9.42 an hour — is the highest in the nation. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Nearly 16 percent of Olympia residents live below the poverty level, according to census data. The federal poverty level for a family of three is about $20,000.

Despite the poll’s suggestion that Olympia supports a higher minimum wage, some say the city is still too small to experiment with the concept.

“There’s a reason we don’t have Walmarts. It’s because we prefer small businesses to large corporations,” said Max Brown, an Olympia resident who chairs the city’s planning commission. “I understand the argument that you’re going to get more money in the pockets of the people, but small businesses and entrepreneurs are not going to be able to make it work.”

One problem the minimum wage issue fails to address is income inequality and the shrinking middle class, he said. For example, a higher wage isn’t the same as lifting people up into higher-paying jobs through training and education.

“Until you’re able to step aside from the politics and think about it holistically, it’s really difficult to get good answers,” he said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.”

A bill that would raise the statewide minimum wage to $12 in the next four years through 50-cent increments, starting next January, is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee.