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WA Workers Ask, 'Time to Raise the Federal Minimum Wage?'

Photo: Demonstrators with "pennies" bearing likeness of Washington AG Rob McKenna. (Photo credit:  Sage Wilson.)
Photo: Demonstrators with "pennies" bearing likeness of Washington AG Rob McKenna. (Photo credit: Sage Wilson.)
July 25, 2012

SEATTLE - Even in the state of Washington, where the minimum wage is the nation's highest, there's still room for improvement. That was the message on Tuesday at a rally in support of a federal minimum-wage hike.

Seattle demonstrators used the national day of action to remind people that state Attorney General Rob McKenna - now a gubernatorial candidate - opposed raising Washington's minimum wage by 12 cents an hour in 2011. They showed up at his office carrying poster-sized pennies with his likeness on them.

Luis Escamilla, a high school teacher in Tukwila, says the struggles of his students' families motivated him to attend.

"I work with students who are being severely impacted by this really low socioeconomic status. You know, I feel like I'm emotionally invested as well."

Washington's minimum wage is pegged to the Consumer Price Index, and McKenna had raised questions about how the figures were calculated for 2011's increase.

Escamilla says he was surprised at the diversity of cultures and ages of the approximately 100 people who showed up at Tuesday's event.

The point of the demonstrations, in about 30 major cities across the nation, is that few people actually can support themselves on a minimum-wage income. Escamilla, who spoke at the Seattle event, says Washington's lowest-wage workers know how fortunate they are, compared to those in other states, to make $9.04 an hour - but it's still tough to stretch a paycheck and save for the future.

"Whether you're talking about the minimum wage or economic policies that hurt working families, they're tied together. And I'm a pink slip away - and I think most people are a pink slip away - from poverty."

Washington is one of 17 states that has a higher hourly wage than the federal minimum, which is $7.25. Legislation has been introduced in Congress as recently as last month to raise the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA