Read this if you're not sure how to vote on Initiative 23-02 | Letters

Letter to the editor

By Carmen Rivera, Renton City Councilmember

The destiny of minimum wage workers in Renton and throughout King County hangs in the balance with the special election as Renton voters contemplate the implications of Initiative 23-02. This initiative is crucial to addressing persistent issues surrounding worker rights and fair wages in Renton. Despite concerns raised by the opposition, assessing the potential advantages and broader societal impacts is imperative.

Prominent current and former mayors underscore the significance of flexibility in responding to economic challenges, citing past experiences such as the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. While flexibility is undeniably valuable, establishing a baseline of economic security for workers is equally crucial to prevent vulnerability during crises. Initiative 23-02 aims to achieve this by raising the minimum wage and implementing labor regulations safeguarding workers from unfair practices.

One argument against Initiative 23-02 revolves around the fear that the proposed regulations may impose additional burdens on businesses, increasing consumer costs. However, it is important to note that the initiative exempts all small businesses with fewer than 15 employees. Covered employers, defined as those with 15 to 499 employees or an annual gross revenue exceeding $2 million, will undergo a multi-year phase-in, as described in Sections 3, 4, and 10 of Initiative 23-02.

Addressing concerns raised in recent letters to the editor, Section 6 of Initiative 23-02 ensures fair access to additional hours for part-time employees, preventing worker exploitation by only hiring part-time workers to avoid paying benefits or saving the business labor costs. We have seen essential workers exploited for their labor due to the classist notion that minimum-wage workers are “unskilled” and only fit for entry-level work, disregarding minimum-wage workers’ diverse skills, contributions, and lived reality. Workers are more than part of some bottom line.

Higher wages have the potential to motivate and satisfy the workforce, leading to increased productivity and efficiency and reducing employee turnover. Arguments suggesting that businesses may raise prices, cut hours, or automate tasks oversimplify market dynamics. Evidence indicates that well-implemented minimum wage increases can result in long-term economic benefits, as observed in regions that successfully implemented similar initiatives.

Initiative 23-02 aims to uplift the workforce, reduce socio-economic disparities, and stimulate economic growth. While the timing amidst the COVID-19 aftermath poses challenges, bold initiatives are crucial for community rebuilding and recovery. Government programs can assist smaller businesses in transitioning without compromising viability, utilizing unused funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Per the October 16, 2023 Committee of the Whole Mid-Biennial Budget Update, a remaining $2.6M of unallocated ARPA funds that are deemed as ‘lost public sector revenue’ will go toward sidewalk improvement ($1M), human services funding ($525K), citywide cleanup ($500K), the senior center HVAC and roof update ($400K), and crime prevention through environmental design ($251K). I agree with the current and former mayors’ argument for a more collaborative approach through the City Council, which we can do as a result of a unanimous council vote on November 13, 2023, to explore establishing a small business grant program, where we could allocate a portion of the remaining ARPA funds to our beloved small business community still in recovery. As of February 2nd, there are no updates on this motion.

Moreover, the argument that compliance with the initiative falls disproportionately on covered businesses neglects the fact that fair wages and worker rights should be non-negotiable regardless of the size of the enterprise. This step towards building a more equitable society ensures businesses contribute to the well-being of workers and the community, regardless of their scale.

Passing Initiative 23-02 will position Renton as a leader in progressive labor relations, attracting businesses that prioritize ethical practices and social responsibility. At the June 26 Committee of the Whole, Finance Director Kari Roller stated that the department “could use more” staff to assist in the outreach regarding Renton’s Business & Occupation (B&O) tax. As the fourth largest city in King County and 8th largest in the state, we need to grow our city staff with our growing city. Initiative 23-02 is the driver to increase our city staff in proportion to our growth.

This initiative is essential for shaping a sustainable and responsible business environment. The King County Council’s increased wage ordinance is on hold, allegedly awaiting Renton’s decision; neighboring city leaders are also looking to Renton to see how to proceed, making this special election a determining factor for regional minimum wage standards.

Supporting Initiative 23-02 allows Renton to address social justice issues and reshape its economic landscape. Voters must weigh the potential short-term challenges the city is responsible for assisting with, along with the long-term benefits of fair wages, improved worker satisfaction, and a more equitable society. By passing initiative 23-02, Renton can take a bold step towards building a resilient community that thrives economically while prioritizing the well-being of its workforce. Renton voters can vote in line with the city’s motto, “Ahead of the Curve,” by voting YES on Initiative 23-02!


Editor’s note: The Renton News published two “vote no” letters to the editor about the proposed minimum wage increase in the Feb. 1 print edition.