Will AG McKenna undermine Washington’s popular minimum wage initiative – or will Gov Gregoire recommend an increase for 2011?

A new poll shows continued strong support for a higher minimum wage – but Washington’s groundbreaking voter initiative could be undermined by state Attorney General Rob McKenna. Governor Gregoire will have the final say.

Washington voters were the first in the nation to approve indexing the state’s minimum wage to inflation. Now the popular measure, passed in 1998 by majorities in every Washington county, has come under fire from state Attorney General Rob McKenna. Ignoring clear statutory language and intent, McKenna has come out against a 12-cent cost of living adjustment scheduled for 2011.

Support for a strong minimum wage is apparent nationwide. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that a robust majority of Americans, 67%, favor increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.00 per hour, and indexing it to inflation in order to keep pace with increases in the cost of living.

In the face of Wall Street’s boom and bust cycles, Washington’s minimum wage provides a measure of economic security for tens of thousands of Washington workers, helping them stay afloat in tough times and preserving buying power when the economy improves.

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) now says a final decision about a minimum wage increase will be made by October 15th — that’s this Friday. Contact Governor Gregoire and urge her to do the right thing by recommending a cost-of-living adjustment in the minimum wage to L&I.

Here are a few talking points you can put into your own words:

  • No one working full time should have to live in poverty.

Even with the highest minimum wage in the nation ($8.55 an hour), full-time minimum wage workers in Washington earn far less than what families need for a basic budget. A two-parent, two-child household working full-time (2080 hours) at minimum wage would earn $35,568 per year. In Seattle, annual expenses for the same family are approximately $49,835; in Spokane/Spokane County, $41,738; in Chelan County, $39,795.

  • Over 65,000 jobs in Washington are affected by changes in the minimum wage.

The most recent update from the state Employment Security Department (ESD) indicates that in the second quarter of 2009, the overall num­ber of minimum wage jobs was at an all-time high of almost 67,000, exceeding the record set in 2000. Since workers within about $1.00 of minimum wage also experience raises when the minimum goes up, the Governor’s decision will directly affect far more than the apparent number.

  • Boosting the minimum wage will help Washington’s economy recover.

Putting a few extra cents in workers’ pockets will help boost local businesses and improve Washington’s economy, because low-wage workers are particularly likely to spend most of their income on day-to-day necessities. Previous claims that minimum wage increases would hurt job growth have been debunked both by Washington’s experience and those of other states across the country. As of 2007, even the president of the Association of Washington Business – one of the state’s major business lobbies – said the group is no longer fighting regular increases in Washington’s minimum wage.

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