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Olympia councilman to push for $15 minimum wage

File photo: Around 60 supporters for the $15 minimum wage initiative marched around - and briefly inside - the Capital Mall on April 15 before boarding an awaiting bus to join a much larger rally later in the day.
File photo: Around 60 supporters for the $15 minimum wage initiative marched around - and briefly inside - the Capital Mall on April 15 before boarding an awaiting bus to join a much larger rally later in the day. Staff photographer

The Olympia City Council will discuss the pros and cons of raising the city’s minimum wage during a study session at 5:30 tonight at City Hall.

Councilman Jim Cooper is introducing legislation that would raise the minimum wage in Olympia to $15 an hour.

No council action will be taken at the study session, but in a memo to the council, Cooper said the goal with the proposed policy framework is to “begin a more formal conversation in Olympia and the broader region.”

The plan calls for phasing in the $15 wage over two years for large companies and over four years for smaller companies. Other aspects include mandatory paid “sick and safe time” for all workers, and ensuring more compatibility between employees’ work schedules and personal time.

“I’ve been trying to get this conversation rolling for two years,” Cooper told The Olympian, noting the possibility of a local or statewide ballot initiative in the future. “There are a lot of possibilities in the next year.”

To develop the proposal, Cooper was part of a coalition that includes several unions and Working Washington, which has organized several rallies to support a higher minimum wage. Working Washington reports that 33 percent of Olympia’s workforce earns less than $15 an hour, and that 19 percent of the workforce earns less than $12 an hour.

Earlier this year, a poll showed that 69 percent of Olympia voters support the establishment of a $15 minimum wage. The conversation in Olympia has intensified amid efforts in other cities to establish a higher minimum wage. In the Nov. 3 election, Tacoma voters will decide between two options to raise the minimum wage — either to $12 over two years or to $15 immediately.

At the local level, Olympia’s finance committee discussed the matter in September 2014. Some business leaders at that discussion were skeptical about a higher minimum wage and questioned whether it would put the city at a competitive disadvantage or have a negative impact on the economy.

Washington state’s minimum wage is currently $9.47 per hour.

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