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State Workers Weigh In On $15 Hourly Wage

PHOTO: Marches, like this one in Seattle last month, have kept the pressure on the City of Seattle to adopt a $15 hourly minimum wage. The effort has stalled, at least temporarily, but it has gotten the attention of people across the nation. Photo courtesy 15Now.
PHOTO: Marches, like this one in Seattle last month, have kept the pressure on the City of Seattle to adopt a $15 hourly minimum wage. The effort has stalled, at least temporarily, but it has gotten the attention of people across the nation. Photo courtesy 15Now.
April 28, 2014

SEATTLE - Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has described the effort as "stuck" for now, but public pressure is on for a city minimum wage of $15 an hour. One group watching the action closely is state government workers. About one in 10 state employees makes an hourly wage of less than $15, but with bargaining coming up for new contracts, setting a new pay floor will be on the list of topics.

Paula Lukaszek, whose Local 1488 represents food-service and janitorial workers at the University of Washington, said these are hard-working people who have a hard time making ends meet.

"Most of 'em that I know, they work two jobs, you know. They leave their job here - they work from, like, 5 to 1:30 - they go catch a bus, and they go to a second job, just to be able to take care of their family," Lukaszek said.

This month, the Washington Federation of State Employees launched a wage survey to get members' views on bringing the minimum-wage issue into contract negotiations.

Dave Greenman is president of Local 341, representing direct-care staff at facilities like the Fircrest School and Echo Glen juvenile detention center. Pay starts at just over $11 an hour, and Greenman said if a $15 minimum wage is the norm in the private sector, it will instantly become harder for the state to recruit and retain workers in his field.

"I mean, it's not an easy job being a direct-care staff, working with clients that can be very aggressive, very challenging," Greenman said. "They're not getting very much money for the things that they have to do."

While most of the minimum-wage discussion is centered around Seattle and the metro area, Lukaszek said she was surprised when she took some literature from the "15 Now" campaign to a recent statewide union conference.

"I was amazed at the amount of different locals that came up to me and asked to see the pamphlet, and said they wanted to put it on their bulletin board, even though they were in eastern Washington," she explained. "I think people all over this state realize we're just falling farther and farther behind."

Last month, Western Washington University reached an agreement with its Federation members that will bring the lowest-wage workers close to the $15 rate when it goes into effect in July.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA