Vote yes on Initiative Measure 23-02 for working families and an equitable community

Guest opinion piece.

By U.S. Congressman Adam Smith and Councilmember Kim-Khánh Văn

During this Tuesday’s Special Election, our region will be watching to see if Renton will rise to the occasion to support working families. Renton voters will have a say in raising our community’s quality of life. This is an important opportunity to rebuild our community’s economy after enduring a global pandemic. As policy makers and community leaders in our respective roles, we encourage residents to vote YES on Initiative Measure 23-02.

Economic recovery requires collaboration at all levels of government. Thanks to President Joe Biden’s leadership and congressional support, $18 million federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act were given to the City of Renton to support economic recovery. Funds from the Federal CARES Act were also received by the City. But there is more work to be done to fully recover from the economic crisis of the pandemic, including wage raises for our workers.

Inflation resulting from the pandemic is falling, but prices are still high and wages have not kept up. In our region, the cost of housing has skyrocketed, making it hard for working families to rent or buy a home. It’s time to tackle the rising cost of living by ensuring a living wage for all.

Initiative Measure 23-02 is designed to raise wages while protecting small businesses, such as owner-operated microbusinesses and shops. It defines “covered employees” as those working for employers with at least 15 employees or annual gross revenue exceeding $2 million. Wages will increase in line with inflation annually, safeguarding workers from rising living expenses. This initiative provides a safety net for the smallest businesses and shops in our community. Read the full initiative here for more information.

Initiative Measure 23-02 also allows small business employers to apply for permission to pay employees less than the state minimum wage. The Washington State Dept. of Labor & Industries (L&I) may issue a certificate allowing a subminimum wage if an employer meets the specific requirements.

Increasing the minimum wage is proven to help working families. Professor Jacob L. Vigdor, Professor of Public Policy at the University of Washington, testified before the Congressional Committee on the Budget in the United States Senate in February 2021 in regards to the Seattle minimum wage law and the Raise the Wage Act, a bill that would increase the federal minimum wage. Vigdor testified that the strongest reaction to a minimum wage increase wasn’t to lay workers off, as some people would argue. Vigdor states that “the low-wage-earning parents we interviewed - most of them women, many of them immigrants - were by and large doing well at keeping their jobs and their hours,” and that raising the minimum wage put more money in the pockets of adults and working parents.

Renton’s population has over 105,000 residents, and over 60,000 workers of which over 22,000 (or one in three workers) earn wages below $19/hour, according to the City of Renton. Per the latest Census report, 44% of Renton households qualified as low-income, falling below the 80% Seattle-Metropolitan Area Median Income (AMI), and there was a disproportionate impact on minority communities, as 57% of African American and 63% of Hispanic households qualified as low-income.

For over a year, supporters of Initiative Measure 23-02, including local residents and businesses, have been engaging government entities, agencies, workers, and the community to ensure collective success. It’s time to prioritize workers everywhere by making the right choice.

This initiative centers working families and creates a more equitable community for all as we continue to recover from a global pandemic. Together, as a community, we can rise to the occasion for our working families. Vote YES on Initiative Measure 23-02.