“Idaho is right across the border paying a low $7.25 an hour minimum wage,” a Subway business owner said. The audience laughed and checked off a box on the “Business Lobby Group” Bingo card that said “Make Idaho sound good.”
At the Olympia hearing about the proposed bills to raise the minimum wage and create minimum standards for paid sick leave, we brought Bingo cards that predicted what the business lobbying groups would say to try and justify paying people poverty wages.
“It would be very easy for my consumers to drive across the border to get those same things. It would cause a leakage in tax revenues and in money in our community”
The only problem with this played out argument is that is hasn't actually happened.
In a New York Times piece that explores towns separated by 8 miles between Idaho and Washington small business owners paid a 54% higher minimum wage in Washington and saw their businesses flourish.
Facts are hard.
We checked off a few more squares in rapid succession as lobbyists from the Association of Washington Businesses and the Washington Restaurant Association went into their well rehearsed performance. In fact, a few of got “Bingo!” before the lobbyists were even in their second act.
The legislators could follow along with their own copies of the bingo cards. We had caught the business lobbying groups in their own game and it was on everyone’s mind. One legislator even tried to argue with us on Twitter - while people were testifying.
It actually got worth listening to once workers got a chance to speak up in support of raising the minimum wage.
Luke Bridges works at an Olympia restaurant and he’s trying to work his way through college. He has had to make some hard decisions because of the low wages he is paid.
“As a student worker it is nearly impossible to afford rent, tuition,food and fees while maintaining good grades,” he said. “Recently, I had to move back in with my Mother to afford the cost of tuition. If the minimum wage was raised to $12 an hour I’d be able to support myself and reduce my student debt.”
He looked up from his notes.
“Although $12 dollars an hour is a step in the right direction it seems to me that it is too little too late for workers who are struggling right now. I urge you to pass House Bill 1355 and continue to strive for more. $15 an hour is not asking much.”
Nathan Ward lives and works in Aberdeen.
“I’ve worked at the Taco Bell in Aberdeen for 5 years now,” he said. “I make $9.50 an hour. It is such right now that I can’t afford to miss a single shift for no matter what reason. I can’t afford a $70 hit in my paycheck.”
He also talked about how a higher statewide minimum wage would be good for the communities in Washington State that are struggling economically.
“My whole community would benefit from this,” he said. “It would help put some capital back into my town.”
The minimum wage and paid sick leave bills were passed out of committee and now it is moving forward through the process. We may need to adjust our bingo cards for the larger debate in the State House, but probably not.