Valley business owners, employees prepare for minimum wage hike

The 12-cent raise that Harrison Evel is expecting on January 1 won't change his life. But it will mean a few more dollars in his pocket each week.

Washington's minimum wage is slated to rise this weekend, up 12 cents to $8.67 an hour beginning Jan. 1. The wage increase amounts to $4.80 in a 40-hour work week.

"I'm stoked about it," Evel, a server at Snoqualmie Falls Brewing Company, said Wednesday. "It's a little bit more money. I'm still doing the same thing I love to do."

The Department of Labor & Industries adjusts the state’s minimum wage each year in September as required by Initiative 688, which Washington state voters approved in 1998. The initiative requires the state to adjust the minimum wage according to the change in the federal “CPI-W,” which is a national index covering the cost of goods and services needed for day-to-day living. That index rose 1.4 percent during the 12 months ending Aug. 31, 2010.

Fourteen- and 15-year-olds may be paid 85 percent of the adult minimum wage, or $7.37 an hour.

This year's increase generated some opposition from business groups, including the Washington Farm Bureau, Washington Retail Association and Restaurant Association, who are challenging it in court. Kittitas County Superior Court Judge Scott Sparks heard arguments Wednesday.

Wage increase foes believe the increase is not justified by the price index rise.

John Stuhlmiller, director of government relations for the Washington Farm Bureau, argues that the price index has not reached the level set in 2008, when the state last raised the minimum wage.

He said that that wage increases prevent creation of entry-level jobs.

"All you hurt are young folks and folks that have a harder time getting hired," Stuhlmiller said. "It translates into less jobs."

"The minimum wage doesn't only affect minimum wage workers," he added. "It's not just the 12 cents in the pocket of the worker. It's also what it means for benefits: more unemployment insurance, more worker's comp, more payroll taxes."

In North Bend, mayor and business owner Ken Hearing said wage increases over the last several years have meant fewer shifts for workers at his restaurant, Scott's Diary Freeze.

"I used to have extra people on shift or on the schedule," Hearing said. But with the higher minimum wage combined with a bad economy, "I can no longer afford to do that. It cuts people out of work shifts. Even my adults, I'm not carrying anymore."

Hearing said the mandatory increase makes it harder to give raises to employees who deserve them.

"Come minimum wage (increases), they think they should get raises, too," he said. "The ones that deserve it, they're the ones that really get hit."

"If you look back, the reason given was that minimum wage should be raised to keep up with the cost of living, that people can't live on minimum wage," Hearing said. "They still can't. The value of their dollar goes down. Minimum wage is driving things way too fast. They're getting further and further behind."

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