King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay –  who represents King County’s District 2 – on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023 announced legislation that would create a minimum wage of $18.99 per hour for unincorporated King County.

Kent is an incorporated city, so, if passed by the King County Council, this increase would not affect workers or employers here, where the minimum wage is currently $15.74/hour. Surrounding unincorporated areas would be affected though.

Workers in unincorporated King County are always left out of policies that increase the minimum wage in neighboring cities,” Zahilay said. “That means someone working in Skyway could be paid several dollars less per hour than if they went a block north to Seattle or a block west to Tukwila. That’s not right. If passed, our proposal to increase the minimum wage in unincorporated King County would be a big step toward investing in the workers and economy of every corner of our region.” 

Standing alongside community and labor leaders, Zahilay made the announcement in Skyway, an unincorporated area of King County that has lagged in wages while surrounding cities have set their own higher minimums. He was joined by Councilmembers Joe McDermott, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, and Rod Dembowski.

Similar to Seattle’s structure when it first enacted a minimum wage, the proposal would require the full $18.99 per hour only for the largest employers, with smaller businesses required to pay $2 and $3 less per hour in the first year, based on the number of employees and annual revenue. Over time, however, those lower tiers would rise so eventually all businesses would pay the same minimum.

If approved, the minimum wage would take effect on Jan. 1, 2024, with inflation-based annual percentage increases annually each year.

“Raising the minimum wage in unincorporated King County to match nearby cities is good policy and the right thing to do for King County workers,” said Councilmember Dembowski. “A fair wage helps lift working people out of poverty, leads to healthier families and more resilient communities.  I’m proud to co-sponsor this ordinance.”

“When workers are paid more, they and their families obviously benefit,” said Councilmember Kohl-Welles. “And many of us likely remember a time in which we were barely making ends meet – I certainly do. A policy like this would have made a real difference for my five kids and me. More money in hand can mean survival for many, to stabilize and plan for the future and avoid having to take on additional work. To have more time with family and friends which can lead to healthier, safer communities. But it also can mean more spending in the local economy. And, importantly, it’s the fair thing to do. These are among the reasons why I’m very pleased to support Councilmember Zahilay’s proposal to increase the minimum wage in Unincorporated King County to bring it in line with neighboring jurisdictions.”

Urban unincorporated areas can often lag behind neighboring cities in economic measures, with wages being a major factor. Skyway, for instance, is currently held to the state minimum of $15.74 per hour but borders Tukwila, where the minimum wage is $18.99, and Seattle, where the minimum wage is $18.69. Nearby SeaTac has a minimum wage of $19.06 per hour.

On the state minimum wage, a worker would have to work 103 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom rental in King County, according to data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Meanwhile, businesses often already pay above the state minimum. According to a 2022 survey of the business community by King County, 67% of respondents supported an increase in the minimum wage.

The legislation, officially introduced on Tuesday, will be considered by the King County Council in the coming months.

Scott Schaefer

Founder/Publisher/Editor. Three-time National Emmy Award winning Writer (“Bill Nye the Science Guy”), Director, Producer, Journalist and more...