The King County Council on Tuesday, May 14, 2024 gave the go-ahead to a proposal that will, once implemented, boost the minimum wage in unincorporated King County to just over $20 per hour.

The highest tier of the new minimum wage will be $20.29 an hour, taking effect Jan. 1, 2025 with annual increases to match inflation.

“With the cost-of-living skyrocketing in King County, it’s crucial that our region’s workers have the means to survive. One job should be enough to cover basic needs like rent and groceries. Today, the King County Council took a significant step toward that goal by passing my minimum wage ordinance,” said King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, who authored the legislation. “Workers across unincorporated King County will soon enjoy similar minimum wage protections as their counterparts in many neighboring cities. I’m immensely proud and grateful for the collaboration with local unions, small businesses, and fellow councilmembers. Together, we’re uplifting our communities across the county, making King County an exceptional place to work, live, and raise a family.”

Cosponsored by Councilmembers Rod Dembowski, Teresa Mosqueda, and Jorge L. Barón, the measure is aimed at lifting wages in unincorporated areas where wages lag behind nearby cities with much higher minimum wage standards. For instance, Skyway is held to the state minimum of $16.28 while neighboring Tukwila has a $20.29 minimum wage.

“Everyone working in King County should have the opportunity to benefit from our strong economy,” Dembowski said. “But I see too many hard-working King County residents being left behind and struggling to meet the cost of living. This law extends a ladder of opportunity to tens of thousands of hard-working King County residents. I am proud to have cosponsored and worked to pass it.”

The proposal will set the minimum wage to $20.29 per hour across unincorporated King County, though the ordinance won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2025, making the new wage also subject to an increase based on inflation.

“Raising the minimum wage is a proven strategy to put more money in our local economies,” Mosqueda said. “Our working families are struggling to afford housing, placing food on their tables, and having anything left at the end of the month to save for a rainy day. I’m proud to help workers get closer to a living wage and happy that we are giving our small businesses more time to make this adjustment.”

“I am thrilled that the Council has approved legislation to increase the minimum wage in unincorporated King County today and am pleased to have voted for and co-sponsored this measure,” Barón said. “As the cost of living across our region grows, this is not the only solution to address the issue of affordability, but it is part of the solution. I am committed to working to make sure that our county is a place where workers are supported, because when people can afford to live, our whole community is stronger. I’d like to thank my colleague, Girmay Zahilay, for crafting this legislation and express my gratitude for the many advocates and community members who supported this policy.”

Importantly, the ordinance carves out exceptions for small businesses with lower revenues and few employees.

Employers with 15 or fewer employees with an annual gross revenue of less than $2.0 million would have an hourly minimum wage rate of $3.00 less ($17.29). The reduction would decrease annually by $0.50 until no reduction is remaining in 2030. Meanwhile, employers with 15 or fewer employees with an annual gross revenue of $2.0 million or greater and employers with more than 15 employees but fewer than 500 employees would have an hourly minimum wage rate of $2.00 less ($18.29). The reduction would decrease annually by $1.00 until no reduction is remaining in 2026.

Dunn: “Highest minimum wage in nation will harm rural businesses, workers”

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn issued the following statement after the King County Council pushed forward a controversial minimum wage ordinance for unincorporated King County, despite backlash from effected residents:

“I fear that this massive wage hike will harm, rather than help, my constituents. Since it only effects businesses in unincorporated King County, it gives rural communities the highest minimum wage in the nation, and arguably the world. Rural areas simply don’t have the existing economic engine that cities do to support this burden.

“Furthermore, many small businesses—which are the lifeblood of our economy and the primary job providers—simply won’t survive. This is bad policy, and not nearly nuanced enough to support small businesses and workers alike.”

Dunn introduced a “total compensation” amendment, which would have allowed tips, gratuities, bonuses, and money paid by an employer towards an employee’s health benefit plan to count toward the hourly minimum wage rate. King County Cities that have adopted minimum wage, including Seattle, currently have a total compensation model as a part of their minimum wage. Dunn also introduced an amendment that would have exempted rural areas from the increase. Both amendments failed.