Machinists will work to help raise up Washington

SEATTLE — Machinists Union District Lodge 751 is joining the effort to raise Washington’s minimum wage to $13.50 an hour.

RaiseUpWALogoThe union’s District Council voted March 22 to endorse the Raise Up Washington campaign, which seeks to put an initiative on the November ballot that would raise the minimum wage statewide to $13.50 an hour by 2020.

The initiative – I-1433 – would also establish a statewide standard for paid sick leave, which would allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.

“This is the kind of common-sense legislation that unions should be fighting for,” said IAM 751 Legislative Director Larry Brown. “It would raise pay for hundreds of thousands of working people in our state, and would create a sick leave benefit that would lead to healthier families and communities.”

Nine other unions and the Washington State Labor Council already have endorsed I-1433. So have both Democratic presidential candidates – Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – and groups like the Church Council of Greater Seattle, El Centro de la Raza and the NAACP.

Data from the Washington State Budget & Policy Center shows that more than 730,000 Washington working people would benefit from a minimum wage increase to $13.50 an hour. Of those, more than half are older than 30, and there are more people older than 55 earning less than $13.50 (about 95,000 people) than there are teens (66,000 people).

The largest share of workers who would benefit from the wage increase are in the service industry: food servers, bartenders, baristas, hair stylists and hotel workers.

However, thousands of aerospace manufacturing workers also would benefit, Brown said.

A 2015 study of the most-recent data then available showed that 38 percent of the non-union workers in Washington’s aerospace industry – more than 5,600 people — were paid less than $15 an hour.

And even at the Boeing Co., where union contracts help ensure better pay, there were nearly 600 people paid less than $15 an hour in 2014, according to state Department of Revenue reports. That included more than 400 manufacturing workers and 150 building and grounds maintenance people.

larrytalksWhile the state data doesn’t specify how many of those aerospace workers are paid less than $13.50 an hour, Brown said “it’s clear that raising the state’s minimum wage to $13.50 an hour would benefit thousands of aerospace manufacturing workers and their families by giving them more money to spend at businesses in their communities.”

Raising minimum wages does not force businesses into layoffs, the Washington State Budget & Policy Center reported, citing 64 studies done over 35 years that showed “no changes in employment following a minimum wage increase.”

Modest minimum wage increases also don’t drive inflation, the center said. An analysis of 30 different studies on this topic showed that, on average, a 10-percent increase in wages at a business would drive a 0.4-percent increase in that business’s overall costs.

Many businesses actually benefit from raising wages, the studies found, because workers who are paid better are less likely to quit, so they stay longer, learn more skills and become more productive.

While I-1433’s proposed minimum wage increase is grabbing headlines, the initiative also would address another important issue – the lack of a statewide standard for paid sick days.

Federal data shows that nationwide, 38 percent of non-union workers lack any kind of sick leave benefit.

“Tens of thousands of workers in our state are regularly forced to choose between bad options – go to work sick or lose a day’s pay, or even their job,” Brown said. “For them, if a child gets sick, the family could go hungry.”

I-1433 would allow workers to earn paid sick days at a rate of one day every two months for full-time employees.

“It’s not enough for us to talk about family values,” Brown said. “It’s time for us as a state to show that we actually value families. I-1433 does that in two ways, and that’s why our union is proud to support it.”

Originally formed in 1935 by hourly workers at Boeing, District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 33,000 working men and women at 53 employers across Washington and California.

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