Teachers push for higher minimum wage in South King cities after Tukwila vote

Dec 16, 2022, 5:03 AM
minimum wage...
(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)
(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Tukwila residents overwhelmingly voted in last month’s election to raise the city’s minimum wage in the new year — and now teachers’ unions in neighboring cities are calling for the same move in their communities.

The Renton, Kent, Federal Way, Highline, Auburn, and Tukwila Education Associations wrote a recent column in the South Seattle Emerald advocating for a higher minimum wage in their communities.

Tukwila’s minimum wage will go up to about $19 per hour at workplaces that employ 500 or more employees worldwide. Employers with between 15 and 500 workers will have a phased-in approach over the next few years. The smallest employers — those with fewer than 15 employees — will be exempt.

The current statewide minimum wage is $14.49 per hour; it will go up to $15.74 per hour at the start of the new year.

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The teachers say that their work uniquely qualifies them to speak with expertise on this topic, because they get a direct look at what poverty looks like on a daily basis in their classrooms.

“I was talking to an educator who was actually running to the store over their lunch break to buy shoes, because one of their students showed up with only one shoe on,” said Federal Way Education Association President Shannon McCann.

She noted that about 1,300 students in the Federal Way School District are experiencing homelessness. That adds up to about 6% of students in the district.

“We have many schools that are upwards of 80% [of students on] free and reduced lunch, which is the measure that we use to indicate low-income [status],” McCann said. “So we’re talking nearly entire schools that are impacted by financial marginalization.”

If students do not have enough to eat or if they are taking on jobs after school to help their family with household expenses — which McCann said is quite common in the district — then they cannot devote as much time to studying.

“When we see our students coming to school stressed out about finances, it impacts their learning,” McCann said.

Another factor that impacts students’ academic performance is the instability that comes from frequently moving to a different home as parents try to find somewhere affordable to live.

“When our students and their families are forced to move around quite a bit, that is really disruptive to student learning … Because rent is going up and the minimum wage hasn’t, then our students’ learning is impacted because they’re moving two or three times a year just so their families can scrape by,” McCann said.

As families struggle with record inflation, McCann said that many teachers are sending canned food home with students over the holiday break so that they have enough to eat.

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“Housing is more expensive, gas costs, grocery costs, daycare, clothing, medicine, food, transportation — these costs are going up, and our minimum wage workers are not seeing the kinds of wage increases that are allowing them to keep up,” McCann said.

If a single mom is trying to raise a child on minimum wage, McCann said it would be nearly impossible for that mother to get by — certainly without any margin of financial buffer for a rainy day.

“If a family has a two-bedroom apartment for rent, that’s about $2,000 [per month] … if the rent is $24,000 and folks are only taking home $30,000 [per year], we’ve got about $500 a month that families have for food and utilities, medicine, daycare, clothing, let alone any savings or any unexpected expenses that come up,” McCann said. “And that’s the reality right now for a lot of our South King County families.”

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Teachers push for higher minimum wage in South King cities after Tukwila vote