[EDITOR’S NOTEThe following is a Letter to the Editor, written and submitted by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of South King Media, nor its staff.]

The Burien City Council is poised to pass the weakest local minimum wage legislation in the region. Burien workers and residents deserve better.

Burien’s neighboring cities of SeaTac, Seattle, and Tukwila enacted higher minimum wages in 2013, 2014, and 2022. In a special election just a few weeks ago, voters in the City of Renton followed suit. 

While there are small differences among these laws, they all establish a local minimum wage that is significantly higher than our state standard, which is $16.28 an hour this year. SeaTac’s is $19.70, Seattle’s is $19.97, and Tukwila and Renton are at $20.29, with Renton’s law going into effect this July. These local minimum wages can all be traced to the national Fight for $15 movement that started in 2012, and they’re all approximately what $15 back then would be worth today, adjusted for inflation.

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Even these higher local standards don’t make it easy to live in our high-cost region. According to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a renter in the Seattle area would need to make $40.38 an hour to afford a typical one-bedroom apartment without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. 

Still, that extra $3.50 or $4 an hour really helps. Over a year of full-time work, that’s seven or eight thousand dollars that can go toward health care, childcare, and groceries. For a low-wage family, that can mean the difference between paying the rent and being priced out of their community or even becoming homeless.

You’d think that Burien could at least match the reasonable standards set by its neighboring cities. For several years now, community members and workers have been asking our city council to do just that. Over 500 Burien residents and 18 community and labor groups urged them to pass a strong minimum wage ordinance. Instead, they’re about to pass legislation that would shortchange or exclude most of the Burien workers who need a raise.

Rather than matching Tukwila or Seattle, the city council is proposing just $2 above the state minimum wage. But most employers are already having to pay that much to hire and retain workers in today’s economy. Just like that, the city council is slashing the number of Burien workers who will benefit.

To make matters worse, they want to exclude low-wage workers who receive tips or benefits, by counting these as part of the minimum wage. Subminimum wages for tipped workers have a long, troubled history going back to the days of slavery. Workers who depend on customers’ whims for their basic livelihood are pressured to put up with sexual harassment, and women and Black and brown workers end up being penalized. Washington got rid of subminimum wages way back in 1988, for good reason. It’s shameful that Burien is about to reintroduce this inequitable practice.

Finally, our city council wants to exclude all workers at businesses that employ 20 or fewer full-time equivalent employees. Burien does have a lot of small and medium-size businesses, and some councilmembers seem to think that’s a good reason to exempt them from the law. On the contrary, this makes it even more important that they are included –- with a reasonable phase-in schedule to give them time to adjust – otherwise most of the working families in our community will continue to struggle to make ends meet.

An effective minimum wage law would give thousands of Burien workers a raise, and that means their bosses will have to pay them more than they are getting now. Of course some of those businesses will complain and say that they just can’t afford it. This happens every time a meaningful minimum wage law is proposed in any city or state. But the research shows that raising local minimum wages doesn’t hurt business, it actually creates jobs. Some businesses in SeaTac and Seattle that warned higher wages would drive them out of business ended up expanding.

Call us old-fashioned, but we thought the whole point of raising the minimum wage was to put more money in workers’ pockets. The city council seems to have designed their legislation to help as few real-life Burien workers as possible. In other words, they want to be able to say they did something, without actually doing anything. This lack of leadership is disappointing.

Submitted on Behalf of ACLU Burien People Power by
Jennifer Fichamba, Union Educator
Nancy Kick, Chair

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Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.

4 replies on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR: ‘Burien City Council is poised to pass the weakest local minimum wage legislation in the region’”

  1. Seattle, like what Burien proposes, counts total compensation towards the minimum wage. And you left out that Seattle’s base minimum wage for medium sized businesses is $17.25 per hour, not $19.97 as you say (that’s just for the largest businesses). And Seattle’s wage law came from a negotiation between labor, business, workers, and politicians and was broadly supported by all of them.

    The difference between Seattle and Burien is that Burien is 22.5 percent less expensive than Seattle and 31 percent less expensive than Bellevue. Utilities cost a full 28.8 points below the national average index.

    Burien is basing its minimum wage on a hybrid between what Bellingham passed by a vote of the public. It is likewise $2 higher than the State minimum wage. And Seattle has total compensation like Burien is proposing.

    This seems like a reasonable minimum wage ordinance. It’s not going to make the far left and labor unions happy, nor will it make business interests happy, which is probably what a good compromise should do.

  2. Burien employers should be finding themselves struggling to keep employees based on higher wages in nearby cities. The job market will force the issue.

  3. I don’t understand this city council. The decision to keep minimum wage at only $2 above state minimum in Burien is not going to help the issues with which this city is already struggling. With plenty of higher paying minimum wage jobs just up or down the street in Seattle or Tukwila, they are ensuring that no one will want to work here. Furthmore we have a homelessness crisis we have been struggling with for several years. There is nowhere for our homeless citizens to go. Many of them were priced out of their Burien homes due to consistent rising costs of rent. The City has not yet adequately addressed where they can stay. This minimum wage decision is certain to price more people out of their homes and increase the homeless population in our City. It seems this council does not see the connections and consequences of these decisions. This council is out of touch with reality and unfortunately, so was the one before that! It’s a shame that we are constantly in the news for our inability to govern. As stated in the blog, it’s an election year folks. It’s time for a council that has the best interests of all of it’s residents in mind.

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