More than 60 protesters marched through Capital Mall on Wednesday in a rally to support a $15 minimum wage in Olympia and beyond.
The rally started shortly before 11 a.m. at Black Lake Boulevard and Capital Mall Drive, and was among minimum-wage demonstrations taking place across the state and nation on Tax Day.
The crowd chanted slogans such as “Olympia, it’s the wages, not the water” and “Super-size my salary now” and “Olive Garden, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”
In fact, the rally began in front of the Olive Garden at the mall’s southeast corner. A handful of protesters are employed at the restaurant, including Liz Atkins-Pattenson, who works as a server. She also is a student at The Evergreen State College.
Atkins-Pattenson said a higher minimum wage would reduce income inequality, strengthen the local economy, and help low-wage workers take care of themselves and their families.
“This is an ongoing fight. We’re not going to give up,” said Atkins-Pattenson, adding that a minimum wage lower than $15 an hour is not enough. “We are going to continue to fight until we win.”
Working Washington also helped mobilize people for rallies in Yakima, Pasco, Federal Way and Seatac. Participants in Olympia were invited to board a bus to the Capitol Campus before heading up to downtown Seattle for a culminating march in the afternoon.
Olympia resident Richard Davis, who works for MetroPCS selling cellphones in Capital Mall, said a higher minimum wage would especially benefit his two young children.
“If I don’t go to work, my kids don’t eat,” he said at Wednesday’s rally, noting that “minimum wage isn’t really helping my situation.”
Olympia resident Nicole Alexander, who works at the McDonald’s near Capital Mall, said a higher wage would help her afford basic necessities such as a new pair of eyeglasses and allow her to pay off outstanding fines.
“It would make it easier for me to pay off my license, things like that,” she said. “I’m living paycheck to paycheck.”
Some participants came to the Olympia rally from other cities, but with similar stories of economic struggle. Jason Harvey works full time at a Burger King in Seattle, where the minimum wage increased to $11 an hour April 1 as part of the city’s first step in phasing in a $15-per-hour minimum wage.
The extra money isn’t enough to lift him out of low-income housing, he said, but it will help.
“It’ll make more of a difference when it goes to $13 at the end of the year,” said Harvey, who has worked at the fast food restaurant for eight years.
A similar march organized by Working Washington took place last month in downtown Olympia. Two weeks later, a poll that was backed by local labor unions revealed that about 69 percent of Olympia voters support a $15 minimum wage in the city.
On the other hand, the poll showed that about 24 percent of Olympia voters oppose the higher wage. Some leaders in the business community have expressed concerns about whether small businesses can shoulder the impact of higher wages, or whether higher wages would encourage businesses to leave the city.
Washington’s current minimum wage of $9.47 an hour is the highest among all states and is recalculated every year to account for inflation. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
A bill that would have raised the statewide minimum wage to $12 in the next four years through 50-cent increments, starting next January, died in the Senate last month.