Spokane challenges proposed “Worker Bill of Rights” initiative

The City of Spokane is challenging a “worker bill of rights” initiative filed by Envision Spokane. The Inlander reports,

The Worker Bill of Rights would guarantee a living wage for most employees of larger companies, equal pay and the right to not be wrongfully terminated, while also containing a provision that would make corporate rights subordinate to people’s rights.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 3, argues that the last provision of the Worker Bill of Rights should be kept off the ballot because it falls outside the scope of the initiative process and conflicts with state and federal law.

Although the lawsuit does not specifically challenge the “family wage” provision, it’s worth looking at how the initiative defines the wage:

“Family wage” means a wage that provides for basic needs and a limited ability to deal with future emergencies without the need of public assistance. The City of Spokane shall calculate the family wage to include, but not be limited to, basic necessities such as food, housing, utilities, transportation, health care, childcare, clothing and other personal items, emergency savings, and taxes. The City shall calculate the family wage rate based on a household size of two with one person employed and the family wage rate shall not be less than the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Washington State 2014, as adjusted for inflation. 

It goes on, but that’s enough for now.

We’ve not done the math, but suspect that the wage would be higher than $15 an hour. The Downtown Spokane Partnership urged the city to challenge the measure

“Frankly, every citizen ought to be deeply concerned about this getting on the ballot because it sounds like a chicken in every pot, but the reality is even the discussion about the initiative passing is having a stifling effect on the local economy,” says DSP President Mark Richard.

A recent Brookings Institution report identifies the risks associated with sharp increases in the minimum wage (something we wrote about yesterday).


In job markets where young or less-educated workers already have difficulty finding jobs and gaining important work experience, such [minimum wage] mandates will likely make it much harder.

The researcher, Harry J. Holzer, outlines other concerns, including the unpredictability of employer responses to a $15 wage, state and (particularly) local wage hikes driving employment across state lines or to the suburbs, and changes in business practices that reduce demand for labor. 

The Worker Bill of Rights raises similar concerns … and more.