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Washington state group decries wage hike

OLYMPIA Wash. The Washington Restaurant Association has blasted the state’s Department of Labor and Industries for setting a 5.9-percent increase in the minimum wage as of Jan. 1, to $8.55 per hour.

“This is the time for steady leadership and an understanding of the issues crippling our small business statewide,” said Anthony Anton, president and chief executive of the WRA. “Without strong leadership, we could find restaurants closing their doors and employees being laid off.”

In 1998, Washington became the first state to index its minimum wage to the federal Consumer Price Index, a nationwide cost-of-living gauge. Industry officials from the state and elsewhere warned at the time that the setup could create a vicious cycle, with inflation driving up the minimum wage, which in turn would lead to higher prices, thereby stoking inflation.

In its response to Tuesday’s announcement of a 50-cents-an-hour rise in the pay floor, the WRA noted that restaurants themselves are feeling the pinch of inflation.

“The combination of the rising minimum wage and increases in the cost of food, gas and delivery charges are taking a toll on the state’s largest private employer,” Anton said in the statement.

Washington's minimum wage rose by 14 cents, to $8.05, on Jan. 1, 2008, after rising by 30 cents the prior year. The federal minimum wage currently is $6.55 an hour and will increase to $7.25 an hour next July.

Washington’s switch to an indexed minimum wage was approved by voters as a ballot initiative. Other states have since indexed their minimum wage to the CPI.

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