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Opposition forms as Renton voters weigh minimum wage proposal

Renton, a city southeast of Seattle that's home to the Seattle Seahawks practice facility and a Boeing plant, has a population of 106,000 according to the 2020 U.S. Census.
CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Renton, a city southeast of Seattle that's home to the Seattle Seahawks practice facility and a Boeing plant, has a population of 106,000 according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

There is now organized opposition to a ballot measure in Renton, Wash., that would raise the minimum wage to about $20 an hour.

Opponents of the measure have formed a political action committee. The Washington Hospitality Association, which represents hotels, restaurants and others in the hospitality industry, and the Washington Food Industry Association, which represents businesses in the food and beverage industry, have already contributed almost $70,000.

Julianna Dauble is a teacher in Renton involved in the Raise the Wage Renton campaign.

"We don't know what they're going to do with the money. We anticipate it'll be, you know, yard signs and mailers," Dauble said.

Dauble pointed out that if passed, only large employers — those with more than 500 employees — will be required to adopt the higher minimum wage this year. She estimated there’s about a dozen businesses of that size in Renton.

A representative from the hospitality association recently told the Renton City Council that she had concerns the proposed ordinance would hurt the local economy.

"We understand that we live in an expensive region, but with record inflation and small businesses still recovering from the pandemic, this initiative may create unintended consequences for our beloved Renton community," said Skylar Schmitt, the hospitality association's local government affairs manager.

In the late 1980s, Washington became one of the first states in the country to set its minimum wage higher than the federal level. Decades later, in 2014, Seattle raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In Tukwila, another suburb south of Seattle, the minimum wage is now more than $20 an hour. Seattle is close to that, at $19.97 an hour, more than any other major city in the country. SeaTac, home to the region's biggest airport, is not far behind. Washington state also just raised its minimum wage to $16.28 an hour.

David Cooper, a director at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., has studied minimum wage policies in dozens of states and cities. What that research has largely shown, Cooper said, is that the minimum wage does exactly what it's intended to do.

"It raises wages for low-wage workers with little to no impact on their employment prospects," Cooper said.

As to whether these higher minimum wages translates into fewer jobs overall, Cooper said the impact is so negligible researchers have a hard time tracking it. Any price increases are also small, Cooper said.

And employers benefit from higher wages, too, Cooper said. Workers, for example, tend to stay in those jobs longer.

"Employers don't have to spend as much on recruiting, hiring and training new workers. Productivity tends to go up because those workers can focus on their jobs more, and they're not worried about whether they're going to be able to pay rent at the end of the month," he said.

In December, the Renton City Council had the opportunity to approve the higher minimum wage proposal, but declined to do so. Ballots for the special election are expected to be mailed later this month and must be returned by Feb. 13.

Lilly Ana Fowler covers social justice issues investigating inequality with an emphasis on labor and immigration. Story tips can be sent to