SEATTLE–Low-wage workers and community supporters gathered outside Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna’s Attorney General’s office in Seattle on Tuesday, giant McKenna-faced pennies in hand, to give him their “two cents” about their struggles to make ends meet while McKenna has opposed a small increase in the minimum wage.
McKenna tried to block a voter-approved 12-cent increase in Washington state’s minimum wage for 2011, issuing a new interpretation of the popular 1998 initiative that aimed to end the annual inflationary adjustments in certain years, including 2011. Citing McKenna’s interpretation, corporate lobbying groups representing minimum-wage paying industries sued the state to try to block that increase. The judge quickly ruled against them on summary judgment, saying the law was clear and the 12-cent increase in 2011 should proceed.
But apparently, the industries that pay low wages haven’t forgotten McKenna’s advocacy on their behalf. A recent report shows that the four of the six largest low-wage employers in the country has given a total of more than $16,000 to the McKenna campaign —Walmart, Yum Brands (which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC), McDonald’s, and Subway.
On July 23, in a protest organized by Working Washington, low-wage workers including a child-care workers and airport worker demonstrated outside McKenna’s office to criticize his position on the minimum wage and to tell him “the 99% needs a raise.” They held 12 pennies—representing the 12-cent minimum wage increase McKenna tried to block—that had his image on it and read, “In low wages I trust.”
They also pointed out that McKenna has said his six-figure salary as Attorney General is “too low.” At Washington’s $9.04 an hour minimum wage, a full-time worker earns about $18,800 a year.
The state’s business lobbying groups have begun to push for a sub-minimum “training wage,” and Republicans in Olympia are expected to introduce legislation in 2013 to accomplish this. The prospects for passing such a bill would be greatly improved if Rob McKenna is elected governor this fall.
The event in Seattle on Tuesday was part of a national day of action to raise the minimum wage. Low-wage workers in dozens of cities are calling on elected officials and big corporations to give the 99% a raise by supporting higher state minimum wage laws and measures like the proposal by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to raise the federal minimum wage to $9.80 an hour and adjust it for inflation every year, as Washington does.
David Groves is the editor of The Stand, Washington State Labor Council’s online newspaper providing news about and for working people.
This article, originally printed in The Stand, is reprinted with permission.