Raise the Wage Renton election night victory party
Raise the Wage Renton supporters celebrate their victory at an election night party on February 13th, 2024. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

A cit­i­zen-led ini­tia­tive to raise the min­i­mum wage in one of King Coun­ty’s largest cities looks head­ed for an easy vic­to­ry in ini­tial spe­cial elec­tion night returns tonight, delight­ing a broad and diverse coali­tion of activists and orga­niz­ers who have been work­ing for a long time to increase pay and secure bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions for work­ing fam­i­lies in the Pacif­ic Northwest.

So far, 57.50% of vot­ers in Ren­ton, Wash­ing­ton are say­ing yes to Ini­tia­tive Mea­sure No. 23–02, which qual­i­fied for the bal­lot back in Novem­ber and con­cerns estab­lish­ing labor stan­dards for the city’s employers.

Oppo­si­tion stands out at 42.50%. 5,891 bal­lots have been count­ed in favor of the mea­sure, and 4,354 bal­lots have been count­ed against it.

Turnout is cur­rent­ly 17.49%. Ren­ton has 58,745 reg­is­tered vot­ers and 10,277 of them have weighed in on Ini­tia­tive Mea­sure No. 23–02. The per­cent­age will rise, as more bal­lots remain to be count­ed. Spe­cial elec­tion turnout in Wash­ing­ton State often ranges from the low twen­ties to the mid-thirties.

“The pro­posed ordi­nance requires cov­ered employ­ers to pay a min­i­mum wage based on that estab­lished by the City of Tuk­wila, offer addi­tion­al hours to exist­ing part-time employ­ees before hir­ing new employ­ees or sub­con­tract­ed ser­vices, not retal­i­ate against employ­ees exer­cis­ing rights cre­at­ed by the ordi­nance, and com­ply with admin­is­tra­tive require­ments,” the ini­tia­tive’s bal­lot title says. “The pro­posed ordi­nance cre­ates reme­dies and penal­ties for vio­la­tions. If enact­ed, the ordi­nance could not be repealed with­out vot­er approval.”

“This mea­sure would adopt an ordi­nance that requires cov­ered employ­ers to (1) pay a min­i­mum wage for all hours worked with­in Ren­ton, and (2) dis­trib­ute addi­tion­al hours to its part-time work­ers pri­or to hir­ing new employ­ees, con­trac­tors, or tem­po­rary work­ers if its exist­ing part-time work­ers have the skills and expe­ri­ence to per­form the work,” its offi­cial explana­to­ry state­ment reads.

“Cov­ered employ­ers include those who (1) employ at least 15 employ­ees world­wide, or (2) have annu­al gross rev­enue over $2 mil­lion. The min­i­mum wage starts in July 2024 at $20.29 for large employ­ers and $18.29 for small­er cov­ered employ­ers. The low­er wage would be phased to equal that of larg­er employ­ers in two years, and the wage would be adjust­ed for infla­tion annually.”

“Ini­tia­tive Mea­sure 23–02 will bring Renton’s min­i­mum wage on par­i­ty with our South King Coun­ty Neigh­bors,” the Yes cam­paign’s web­site explains.

“In 2015, the city of SeaT­ac land­ed a his­toric win as it became the first city in the Unit­ed States to adopt a $15 min­i­mum wage law. That same year, Seat­tle fol­lowed suit and enact­ed its own min­i­mum wage increase.”

“In 2022, the city of Tuk­wila passed a min­i­mum wage ordi­nance man­dat­ing a $19 min­i­mum wage, receiv­ing wide­spread sup­port with over 80% of the vote. And just this year, King Coun­ty Coun­cilmem­bers are propos­ing a near-iden­ti­cal $19 min­i­mum wage ordi­nance for all of Unin­cor­po­rat­ed King County.”

An oppo­si­tion cam­paign, fund­ed by the Wash­ing­ton Hos­pi­tal­i­ty Asso­ci­a­tion PAC, Ren­ton Cham­ber of Com­merce, Ever­green Mar­ket (North Amer­i­ca), Inc., Seat­tle Hos­pi­tal­i­ty for Progress PAC, Wash­ing­ton Food Indus­try Asso­ci­a­tion PAC, urged a no vote, argu­ing it would “make things worse by increas­ing costs for everyone.”

“House­hold incomes have already increased sig­nif­i­cant­ly in Ren­ton, while the cost of liv­ing has sky­rock­et­ed,” the No cam­paign’s web­site says. “This pro­pos­al will only widen the gap by caus­ing the costs of gro­ceries, restau­rant meals, child­care, and oth­er goods and ser­vices to increase even more for everyone.”

Oppo­nents also argued that small busi­ness­es would be neg­a­tive­ly impact­ed, con­tend­ing: “Small busi­ness­es are still recov­er­ing from the pan­dem­ic and are strug­gling with infla­tion. A 25% min­i­mum wage increase will lead to reduced hours for employ­ees and high­er prices for everyone.”

Ren­ton vot­ers did­n’t buy those arguments.

The No cam­paign reg­is­tered with the Pub­lic Dis­clo­sure Com­mis­sion on Decem­ber 11th, 2023, and pro­ceed­ed to quick­ly reel in tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in con­tri­bu­tions from a hand­ful of donors, pri­mar­i­ly the afore­men­tioned fun­ders. (The list of con­tri­bu­tions is a mere sev­en­teen entries.) The cam­paign has spent $156,310.63 oppos­ing the ini­tia­tive in the past two months, pri­mar­i­ly on dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing, direct mail, and mass tex­ting. And it’s deeply in the red: In its last fil­ing with the PDC, the cam­paign report­ed debts of $90,067.27.

Raise the Wage Ren­ton has report­ed receipts of $104,239.26 and expen­di­tures of $94,012.69 to date. It has no debt. It had received one hun­dred and eighty-four con­tri­bu­tions as of Elec­tion Day. Its top expens­es have been for post­cards, staff time, legal ser­vices, and sig­na­ture gath­er­ing, to place the mea­sure on the ballot.

This evening, the coali­tion’s vol­un­teers and top sup­port­ers gath­ered at Delancey’s on 3rd in Ren­ton to cel­e­brate their work and await the elec­tion results, which land­ed short­ly after 8 PM. Ren­ton City Coun­cilmem­ber Car­men Rivera was the final speak­er ahead of the 8 PM dead­line to return bal­lots, stress­ing that win or lose, the cam­paign had worked hard and brought peo­ple togeth­er for a bet­ter future, and express­ing opti­mism that the cam­paign would be ahead.

A few min­utes lat­er, as the crowd await­ed the first drop, there was a loud yell of excite­ment, sig­nal­ing that the first results had land­ed and the news was good — very good. Sup­port­ers cheered, clapped, and hugged upon hear­ing that the cam­paign was up big. Rivera and E. Bai­ley Medi­lo offered jubi­lant remarks cel­e­brat­ing the cam­paign’s vic­to­ry, rec­og­niz­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca Ren­ton Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion, Tran­sit Rid­ers Union, and oth­er groups that pro­vid­ed peo­ple and resources to sup­port the effort.

NPI took a posi­tion urg­ing a “yes” vote on Ini­tia­tive Mea­sure 23–02. Increas­ing the min­i­mum wage is a pol­i­cy direc­tion that we have sup­port­ed since our ear­li­est years as an orga­ni­za­tion, and we’re pleased to see Ren­ton vot­ers say­ing yes.

Medi­lo told NPI after the results land­ed that youth activism was cru­cial to the suc­cess of the cam­paign. From its incep­tion, high school stu­dents infused Raise the Wage Ren­ton with ener­gy and momen­tum, team­ing with elders to cre­ate an inter­gen­er­a­tional cam­paign focused on lift­ing up work­ing people.

King Coun­ty Elec­tions will con­tin­ue tab­u­lat­ing bal­lots for anoth­er two weeks, but Ini­tia­tive Mea­sure No. 23–02’s lead looks pret­ty safe. And, in fact, cam­paign orga­niz­ers expect it to grow as more bal­lots are count­ed. They fig­ured if they were up by any amount on Elec­tion Night, they were on a win­ning trajectory.

The cam­paign hopes that its vic­to­ry tonight will help spur the nine-mem­ber Met­ro­pol­i­tan King Coun­ty Coun­cil to pass a sim­i­lar ordi­nance rais­ing the min­i­mum wage in the unin­cor­po­rat­ed areas of Wash­ing­ton State’s largest jurisdiction.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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