The University of Washington (UW), the single largest employer in the City of Seattle, is not increasing pay for its lowest-paid workers when the $15 minimum wage law kicks in next week. And, it is not committed to following the law’s timetable. It’s unclear whether the UW must abide by the law in the future.
Under Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law, employers with more than 500 workers must set a new minimum wage of $11 an hour on April 1. They must increase to $15 an hour by 2017.
According to the Seattle Times, the issue of whether or not the city has the power to “set wages for the UW, the state community colleges, Seattle Public Schools, King County, the Port of Seattle and other public entities is still up for debate.” The Seattle Times,
“The issue is one the state Supreme Court is weighing as it considers whether the city of SeaTac, which passed its own $15 minimum-wage law in 2013, has the power to dictate pay at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is owned and operated by the Port of Seattle.
“Oral arguments in that case took place last June; no date has been set for the decision…
“The city hasn’t addressed the issue in its rules governing the nitty-gritty of the minimum-wage law, “given the lack of legal clarity,” said Karina Bull, policy analyst and business liaison with the city office that oversees the law’s implementation. “We’re awaiting what the state Supreme Court says on that,” she said.”
Currently, the UW has 30,000 workers “spread across its Seattle campus, the UW Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center and campuses in Tacoma and Bothell.” A mere 70 workers make less than $11 an hour, excluding undergraduate student employees. And, “if the Legislature approves the UW’s already negotiated contracts with its unions, the minimum wage for full-time UW employees will rise to $12 in July.”
UW workers making less than $15 an hour comprise a more sizable figure. The Seattle Times,
“The UW estimates that over the course of a year, it employs at least 3,200 workers (not including undergrads) who make less than $15 an hour. Bumping up their wages would take a minimum $3.8 million.
“If undergraduates are included, as well as salary adjustments to make supervisors’ pay rise in relation to their minimum-wage workers’ pay, the UW estimates some 16,600 workers would be affected, at a cost of some $22.5 million.”
Until the state Supreme Court hands down a decision, the UW considers itself in “limbo.” A spokesman told the Seattle Times that “nothing’s going to happen for now” because the UW is in “the middle of the life-cycle of several contracts negotiated with unions,” contracts that cannot be changed. He added, “That aside, we want to pay our people well. The will is there. You have to have the funding to do it.”
Considering the added costs a $15 minimum wage would place on the UW, funding does appear to be key.