- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - Ariana Davis, who sponsored a measure on the fall ballot to raise Washington’s minimum wage, doesn’t expect a raise if it passes. She makes $20 an hour at a Safeway grocery store in Renton.

Instead, Davis says she had some of her co-workers in mind - like Danielle Mendoza, a 25-year-old cashier who’s trying to support three children while making 10 cents an hour more than the state’s $9.47 minimum.

“I’ve worked at Safeway for 10 years now, my first and only job since I was 16,” Davis says. “There are many folks who are still making minimum wage.”

Mendoza is one of 730,000 workers in Washington who backers say would see their pay jump if voters approve Initiative 1433, which would raise the hourly minimum wage by roughly $4 over three years, to $13.50.The measure also would require employers to provide paid sick leave - at least one hour for every 40 worked - which could be used to care for family members or as “safe leave” for those who miss work because of domestic violence.

That could have helped Mendoza when her 2-year-old daughter was hospitalized for a week with a stomach virus this summer, forcing her to miss work. Instead, she borrowed money from her father.

“I don’t know how anybody is expected to live off $9.57 an hour,” she said.

With the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 and concern rising about income inequality, more than a dozen states have adopted measures recently to boost their wage floors, including California, where the rate will eventually hit $15, and Oregon, which is increasing pay at rates that vary by rural, “standard” or metro areas. SeaTac raised pay for transportation and hospitality workers to $15 in 2013, and Seattle is boosting its wage to $15.

Opponents of I-1433 say they don’t necessarily oppose raising the minimum wage. Some say they would support a more moderate increase, such as to $12, with certain conditions: that it’s regionally tiered, includes a training wage for teens, and credits tips toward wages. I-1433 includes none of those provisions.

Raising the minimum wage by nearly half could cost jobs and force businesses to close, they argue. Economically depressed parts of Washington couldn’t bear it, they say, and Washington already has the nation’s eighth-highest unemployment rate.

Kelly Chambers runs a Visiting Angels franchise in Tacoma, providing in-home care to seniors who pay out of pocket. She says she surveyed her customers to ask what they’d do if she had to raise prices to cover higher worker costs under I-1433. About 90 percent said they’d cancel or reduce the care they receive, she said.

The No on 1433 campaign includes the Association of Washington Business, the restaurant industry and the Washington Farm Bureau. It has spent just $50,000 to the $3.7 million by the yes campaign, which includes unions and the liberal Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer. But the opponents have persuaded several newspaper editorial boards around the state to come out against it.

Many economists say studies have found no correlation between minimum wage increases and job losses, but some believe the minimum wage should be set at about half of a region’s median wage.

But I-1433 would raise the minimum wage higher than that in most of the state, from 60 percent of the median in Kitsap County to 79 percent in Yakima County, according to a report by the Washington Research Council, which opposes the measure.

“When people get the facts in their hands, nobody can really get on board with anything above $12,” said No on I-1433 spokeswoman Yvette Ollada.

Supporters say giving low-wage workers hundreds in extra monthly pay will boost the state’s economy. Jack Sorensen, a spokesman for the campaign, argues that the measure effectively is geographically tiered: Seattle has approved $15 an hour, and $13.50 is an appropriate floor for the rest of the state, he said.

The Obama administration says it’s counting on states to lead the way in improving worker pay.

“We have had a minimum wage in this country since 1937,” Chris Lu, the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, said during a trip to Seattle last month to promote I-1433. “Every time we raise the minimum wage, we have the same dispute, and this is still the most vibrant, dynamic economy in the world.”

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Follow Gene Johnson at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle


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