Calls for increasing the minimum wage spread Thursday beyond Seattle and SeaTac, as demonstrators rallied across the Puget Sound region and sat in on a legislative hearing at the Capitol.
Demonstrators gathered at restaurants in Aberdeen, Bellevue and Kent, and were later scheduled to rally at two events in Olympia.
Sage Wilson, spokesman for Working Washington, which organized the events, said about 50 people showed up for the event in Kent, and another 50 for the one in Aberdeen.
Wilson described Bellevue and Aberdeen as cities that couldn’t be much more different. But “one of the things that’s the same is that people working in fast food and home care and retail, they can’t earn enough” on the state’s current minimum wage of $9.32 an hour, he said.
In Bellevue, about 30 protesters gathered at 6 a.m. in front of a Jack-in-the-Box, chanting and waving signs at morning commuters, according to Bellevue Police Department spokesman Seth Tyler. Protesters disbanded after about 90 minutes, Tyler said.
In Kent, demonstrators gathered at a combination McDonald’s-Chevron. They first entered the building, but police officers redirected them to public land, according to Commander Jarod Kasner of the Kent Police Department. The protesters didn’t cause any problems, Kasner said.
Demonstrations were scheduled at the Capitol at 4 p.m., and at the Olive Garden in Olympia’s Capitol Mall at 5 p.m.
In Olympia, demonstrators gathered in the early afternoon at the Capitol campus, where the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee heard presentations on the state of the minimum wage. Supporters of a higher minimum wage rolled out slide after slide showing how wages had remained flat, costs had risen and some workers didn’t make enough to support a family while making the minimum wage.
“Although it has been keeping up with inflation, it’s not keeping up with costs,” Lisa Manzer, senior research coordinator with the Center for Women’s Welfare (CWW), told lawmakers. While wages in America have been stagnant for about 35 years, major costs like housing and healthcare have gotten more expensive, Manzer said.
Manzer presented list of costs researched by CWW that had increased between 2001 and 2014: housing up 40 percent, child care up 68 percent, food up 55 percent and health care up 70 percent.
For a family with two children, both adults would each need to earn $16.56 per hour in Snohomish County, or $12.67 per hour in Spokane County, to meet a family’s basic needs, according to Manzer.
Three men representing business interests didn’t dispute any of this. But David Burroughs, vice chairman for Cascade Design Inc., told lawmakers that lower trade barriers with other countries have forced his company to compete with lower-wage workers all across the world.
Cascade Design, a Seattle-based company that makes outdoor gear like sleeping backs and hammocks, said the rise in Seattle’s minimum wage would cost the company about $2 million per year.
“Which is a substantial part of our earnings,” Burroughs said.
Burroughs was perhaps the only person to suggest an alternative method of combatting income inequality – by raising taxes on the country’s wealthiest people.
“I think that the top 1 percent should be more heavily taxed,” Burroughs told lawmakers.