Voters Pass $19 Minimum Wage in Renton Despite Opposition from Business Groups

Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera and community organizer Maria Abando discuss the Raise the Wage Renton campaign, which seeks to raise the city's minimum wage through a voter-approved initiative. They highlight coalition-building efforts and pushback from the business community.

Voters Pass $19 Minimum Wage in Renton Despite Opposition from Business Groups

NOTE: Renton voters passed this minimum wage measure in February of 2024.

The "Raise the Wage Renton" campaign is working to pass a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $19 per hour for most workers in the city. Renton voters will decide the measure in a special election on February 13, 2024.

"This [initiative] represents not only over 6,000 workers who live and work in Renton, but 50,000 who also commute into Renton, the 45,000 who commute out of Renton - possibly to chase higher wages," explained Rivera on the Hacks & Wonks podcast. "There is a lot going on here and a lot of people who can be directly and indirectly impacted by just increasing the minimum wage by a few dollars."

The proposal is based on a similar $19 minimum wage measure passed by Tukwila voters in 2022. It would require large employers to offer additional hours to part-time workers before hiring new staff, prohibit retaliation, and exempt businesses with fewer than 15 employees.

However, the campaign faces significant opposition from business groups like the Washington Hospitality Association, which have already raised nearly $100,000 for a "No" campaign. "In a matter of days, almost $100,000 has been raised by these corporations," said Rivera. "And mind you, these are the corporations that are going to be most directly impacted... Walmart, Home Depot, Applebee's, Red Robin, Topgolf, World Market, LA Fitness, Starbucks, McDonald's, Fred Meyer, Safeway, gas stations, Target."

Abando accused opponents of hypocrisy for claiming the initiative is being driven by outside agitators while themselves taking large donations from groups like the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. She said the Raise the Wage Renton campaign will victory by mobilizing grassroots supporters to vote. "We're just going to continue to keep on marching, keep on pushing, and don't stop until we win a more livable wage for folks," Abando vowed.

About the Guests

Maria Abando

Maria Abando’s role on the Raise the Wage Renton campaign focuses on fundraising and overall strategy, working to ensure that the campaign stands strong in its values of antiracist, people-centered, coalition building. Her experiences organizing as a Black and Filipina woman shape and motivate her visions of joy, safety, education, and liberation for oppressed peoples everywhere. Her organizing journey began where she was born and raised in Tacoma,WA. After attending the University of Washington, Maria continued organizing throughout Seattle and South King County through initiative petitioning campaigns, fundraising, nonprofit programs, voting justice work, and candidate campaigns from the local to federal level over the past six years. Today, she practices her passions for youth development and advocacy as Assistant Director at the UW Women's Center, managing the Making Connections program. 

She also organizes with Whose Streets? Our Streets!, a working group created to elevate the voices of BIPOC communities in Seattle’s policymaking around issues of safety. She joined the Raise the Wage Renton Steering Committee with deep community ties in Renton after managing the Stephanie Gallardo congressional campaign, covering Renton in 2022. She applies a deep understanding of the struggle to make ends meet, and a fierce determination to work towards a Renton where that struggle is a rarity.

Find Maria Abando on Twitter/X at @maria_abando.

Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera

Carmen Rivera was elected to Renton City Council position 2 in November 2021 as the first openly queer person, first Boricua, and youngest Latina to be elected. She is the second youngest woman to be elected and is currently serving as the youngest city council member at the age of 34.

Born and raised in Renton, Carmen is a first generation Rentonite who attended Renton Public Schools and graduated from Lindbergh High School (Go Eagles!). She attended Seattle University where she graduated with departmental honors, a BA in Criminal Justice and double minors in Spanish and Psychology. Carmen then attended University of Liverpool in England where she earned her MSc in the Psychology of Investigation, a highly competitive program that gave her an international perspective on criminal justice.

Her career began at Echo Glen Children’s Center where she worked as a counselor in an  intensive management unit. She worked her way to be the youngest Juvenile Rehabilitation Coordinator in Washington State, where she supported transition services, advocated for residents, and helped spearhead LGBTQ youth programming on campus. 

She continued her career with King County at YouthSource, working with out-of-school youth and young adults throughout Renton and South King County. It is Carmen’s experience working with the most marginalized communities that drove her to run for Renton City Council. She has witnessed the positive impacts of wrap around social services and governments that support them. 

Carmen is currently a full time assistant teaching professor for Seattle University’s Department of Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Forensics. 

When she is not spending time with her loving partner and beautiful fur babies, you may find her golfing at Maplewood Golf Course, enjoying the Cedar River, or occasionally jumping out of a perfectly good airplane; she’s a licensed sky diver.  Carmen is a passionate supporter of Black Lives Matter and Trans Lives Matter, understanding there is no liberation without Black Trans Liberation.

Find Councilmember Carmen Rivera on Twitter/X at @riveraforrenton.

Raise the Wage Renton campaign

Find the Raise the Wage Renton campaign on Twitter/X at @RTWRenton.

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review show and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes. 

I'm really excited about today's conversation with folks from the Raise the Wage Renton campaign. Today, I'm being joined by Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera. Hey, Carmen. 

[00:01:05] Councilmember Carmen Rivera: Hey, how you doing? 

[00:01:07] Crystal Fincher: Doing well. And also Maria Abando on the Raise the Wage Renton Steering Committee. Hey. 

[00:01:14] Maria Abando: What's up? What's up? 

[00:01:16] Crystal Fincher: So I am so thrilled to have this conversation. We have previously talked about other minimum wage increase campaigns. We eagerly spoke with, and then followed, and then celebrated the success of the Raise the Wage Tukwila campaign from last year. Last year, 2022? One of those years - time is weird for me these days. But now Renton is up to the plate. And so starting off, I just want to start with why this issue is so important - how did this even become an issue in Renton in the first place? - starting with Carmen. 

[00:01:52] Councilmember Carmen Rivera: Thank you so much for having us on and sharing the space with us. This was born actually from a coalition of organizers and labor union workers that really found that there was a need in Renton. When you think about Renton, you may not fully understand or know that she is 60% non-white, she is the fourth largest city in King County, the eighth largest city in Washington state. We have about 21% of our population at or below two times the poverty level, 8% at or below the poverty level. And almost half of our city are renters, with the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment at about $2,195. And so - yeah, yeah. We're right there on par with Seattle, so invite me back when you want to talk about tenant rights and tenant protections in Renton - because we do not have any more than what the state allows. We do not have any increases, and so that's another aspect of this that - happy to talk more on. But all that intertwines with having a livable wage - something that makes it just a little bit easier for people to not only just survive in Renton, but thrive. 

And so when organizers came to me in January of 2023, they presented this initiative that was pretty much a copy-and-paste from Tukwila. And we met and we spoke about it, and I didn't agree initially with all aspects of the initiative. However, organizers felt very passionate about it - they did some outreach. They stuck with what they had and they started gathering signatures. And I felt that it was important for me to use my position and my platform to endorse and support their campaign and help get the message out there. Because this represents not only over 6,000 workers who live and work in Renton, but 50,000 who also commute into Renton, the 45,000 who commute out of Renton - possibly to chase higher wages. So there is a lot going on here and a lot of people who can be directly and indirectly impacted by just increasing the minimum wage by a few dollars, so people can have a little bit more of a cushion. And I think Maria can really speak more to the coalition and the grassroots organizers who are really leading this initiative across King County where it's most needed - because we saw in a report from The Seattle Times in June of 2023, that you need to be making close to $30 an hour to afford to live in King County. And that isn't exempt in South King County, where we're a very diverse city and some people are just surviving barely. 

[00:04:16] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now, Maria, what brought you to this work, and why was this so important to address right now? 

[00:04:24] Maria Abando: Yeah, yeah. So I was one of those organizers that came to Carmen asking for her to endorse and join us as well. But really, I feel like the origins of this campaign are really community, you know, that there's no other way to put it. And I think it really was community that was continuing to do the work post the Tukwila campaign with Transit Riders Union and also with the Stephanie Gallardo campaign - the Gallardo campaign for Congress in 2022 in Washington's 9th Congressional District, where we did end up doing work in Renton and across South King County. And so genuinely, a lot of those same folks from TRU, from the Gallardo campaign, recognized that we - regardless, temporary campaigns, they end. But when you do have true community-based organizing, this ensures that once those temporary campaigns are over, the movements continue, right? And in those campaigns - these were movements where we're talking about uplifting the oppressed, uplifting the poor, the working class people. And in general, I think, reminding our communities how powerful we are when we come together and fight together for a more just world - whatever that looks like, and particularly here in Renton - raising the wages. 

So it's a lot of those same organizers - myself, Guillermo Zazueta, who's chairing the campaign, Bailey Medilo, Aram Balsafi, Michael Westgaard, even some of our same volunteers and our canvass hosts - Christina Mann and Ben Warden - and so on and so on. I wish I could name more. But I do think that it's important to uplift those names because we are a community, right? It's not just Carmen, it's not just myself - there's so many of us working behind the scenes. And there are a lot of folks from those previous campaigns that happened to call Renton their home. And so after those campaigns were over, we knew we wanted to pivot, attempt to do this type of work in Renton, and started to begin really filling out our leadership and filling out our volunteers from Renton residents - because we knew we had to make a really intentional effort to make sure that Renton residents were the ones that were the leading voices, and everyone else just comes in and supports. 

But we all also, I think, have felt really inspired. We know that we are walking in the path that has been paved before us with the - of course, 2015 historic victories in SeaTac becoming the first city in the U.S. to adopt a $15 minimum wage. And of course, Seattle following suit after that. And it was 2022 - of course, Tukwila passing their ordinance mandating a $19 minimum wage after that as well. And, oh my gosh, being able to receive over 80% of the vote, which, again, incredible. And then there's more happening, right? There have been efforts in Burien. I know that last year, King County councilmembers were proposing a near identical $19 minimum wage for unincorporated King County. So all of this is, I think, coming to a point in terms of why is this important, right? Again, it's about uplifting the poor and uplifting the working class - and everyone else who benefits from that. 

But also, I think if we're zooming out and looking at this regionally - thinking about what happens to the neighboring cities, to the neighboring towns, to those neighboring suburbs when one major city raises their wages significantly, right? And the answer to that, I think, is that the region must follow. So Carmen speaking to the ways that there are thousands of folks that commute out in order to chase those higher wages. So your highways, your transit systems - they're flooded with people flocking to chase those higher wages. We know that what ends up happening when you end up commuting to work in a different city with higher wages - you also end up spending your money in that other city as well, instead of the city where you live. Because you're maybe getting your coffee, maybe getting some food, maybe hanging out afterwards in that city. Or you're just losing a lot of time - people commuting an hour to work and commuting an hour back, which could be time spent with family or doing things that you care about. And we also know, and I can say personally from my perspective as a Black and Filipino woman, that Black and brown folks are often the ones that are in these surrounding cities and towns because of gentrification. And Carmen has uplifted that Renton is very diverse - it is a majority-minority place. And so we know, keeping all of those things in mind, that this is something that uplifts everybody. When Renton workers are able to earn a living wage, everyone benefits - and especially folks that are having to commute, especially folks that are really struggling to make those ends meet. And putting more money in folks' pockets to be able to spend that money on basic necessities like childcare, healthcare - and are in general less likely to miss rental payments and less likely to be able to lose stable housing. So I think all this is really, really important. 

[00:09:55] Crystal Fincher: It's super important, and especially as wages haven't kept up with just about anything over time. But my goodness, the cost of housing is just out of control and has been out of reach for someone making minimum wage. And that is just fundamentally not the kind of community that we want to build. It's not what we think of when we think of "the American dream." It's not what we think of when we think of - Hey, get a job, work hard, and you'll be able to support yourself. You should be able to do that - that's what giving up your time and labor should be able to provide. And it used to, and it doesn't now. We've got to get that back to the right place. 

Now, I want to talk about what this initiative does. Reading from the ballot text - this proposed ordinance requires employers to pay a minimum wage based on that established by the City of Tukwila - which we just talked about raised their minimum wage. Offer additional hours to existing part-time employees before hiring new employees or subcontracted services - which is something that many cities and states have moved to, something that just makes a lot of sense and is more fair for workers. To not retaliate against employees exercising rights created by the ordinance and comply with administrative requirements. If enacted, the ordinance cannot be repealed without voter approval. And so this is for the February 13th election, a special election date. So make sure people are ready for that February 13th election. You will get a clue when you get your ballots in the mail, which will be mailed on January 24th. You can register to vote online. You can register online up until February 5th. You can register up until Election Day - even on Election Day - at the County Elections Office in Renton, up until February 13th, the date of the election. So you said this was largely based off of Tukwila's initiative - it refers to that in the ballot text. When putting this together, was it looking at - Tukwila and Renton seem to be pretty similar, this meets the needs. Were there any conversations about things specifically for Renton? How was this initiative put together, and how is it decided what was needed for Renton? 

[00:12:13] Maria Abando: So we definitely ended up working hand-in-hand with Katie and Artie from Transit Riders Union to see what was successful and to see what wasn't successful - for the most part, though, they were just successful with their campaign. And we did think about Renton and we were really recognizing that it's a very different place. Tukwila was fairly small. Renton has, I believe, over 60,000 just workers themselves that would be impacted by this - it's a lot bigger. It has some waterfront property kind of neighborhoods within the Kennydale area. It has The Landing, of course, which is a major shopping center where many, many folks come - not just from Renton, but from outside Renton as well - to be able to shop and spend money. And so we were really trying, I think, to do our best to recognize that because it was so much bigger and because the communities, I think, are - I wouldn't say more diverse than Tukwila, but just fairly expansive, there's just a lot there in Renton - that we wanted to talk to as many people as possible and grow a coalition with as many people as we possibly could. And so we really started with really working with our councilmember, Carmen Rivera, as much as we could. But also reaching out to as many labor unions as we could. We were really proud to get the very early endorsement from the Renton Education Association, which is our teacher's union. And then many unions followed suit - UAW 4121, UFCW 3000, the Teamsters, the MLK Labor Council, to name a few, and just so on and so on - and to ask their Renton members as well, what types of things are they looking for? What types of things that they foresee? What types of challenges might they foresee? And everyone was really communicative with us, which - we really appreciate it. And I think we really started to try and figure out our strategy based off of what our community was saying and really trying to let those Rentonites lead. 

But I also will say we had to learn some of this stuff along the way, Crystal. We had to learn - I think we had a little bit more of learning what didn't work that hopefully can be used with other campaigns in the future, because we know this movement is going to keep on and keep on. One of the things that we learned, for example - this journey was a long one in terms of gathering signatures to be able to qualify for the ballot at all. And of course, we launched in January of 2023. And so here we are on the special election in February 2024. So we obviously shot our shot for November and we weren't able to qualify there, despite the fact that we did, in total, gather over 17,000 signatures, made over 50,000 door knock attempts, engaged over 150 volunteers, distributed nearly 12,000 campaign flyers, and even employed part-time canvassers and signature gatherers to be able to make all of this happen. What we learned was signature gathering in places like Renton that has a huge also community of unincorporated King County, that we were going to have to be a little bit more strategic about that because folks might have a Renton address, but that actually be in unincorporated King County. And so they actually can't sign those petition forms to be able to qualify for the ballot. And so we didn't know that. We were out there tabling in The Landing, doing what we need to do, trying to chat up all the people that were coming through and educate them on what we were trying to do. And the reception was really, really lovely. And people were signing. And we didn't realize that some of those Renton addresses were in unincorporated King County. So that was a hard lesson that we had to learn and recognize that our efforts are best spent at the doors, despite the fact that we would be able to get a lot more signatures doing tabling. We had to recognize that it's not about quantity, right? It's a quality thing. 

I think we felt a lot of urgency and had to check ourselves on our values - that it's not about the urgency of this so much as it's about really improving the conditions of workers in Renton. And so we had to hit those doors in the areas that we knew would be able to vote for this. We had to have those conversations with those folks - genuinely get their feedback - and also work with businesses as well. So we've had multiple business walks - walking to chat with the small businesses downtown - to also get their feedback and get what their thoughts and their support in this as well. So I think, in general - trying some things, realizing some things that didn't work, and just continuing to be flexible and stay really grounded in what we're trying to do here. 

[00:17:08] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now, what has the reception been like, Carmen, from your colleagues on the council? 

[00:17:16] Councilmember Carmen Rivera: I'm so glad you asked me that, Crystal. It has been mixed, and I think that's very reflective of the Renton community. Our council is very reflective of Renton, and something that Maria lightly touched on was - and I'm going to say it a little bit more candidly - this is probably the most conservative city that these organizers have attempted to pass such an initiative. I could arguably say that Seattle, SeaTac, and Tukwila - at the time that these initiatives were passed - were less conservative. And that being said, we have an interesting mix in Renton. We have a very changing tide of new Rentonites, young families starting out here, diverse majority, people of color. And we also have a lot of people who have been here for generations. And we have a lot of history with Boeing - being the home of Boeing - and union workers and labor workers. And so, some of my councilmembers did not agree with more aspects of the ordinance than I, but I think that they had differing opinions and they felt it was more important to leave it to the voters to decide if we should be raising the minimum wage in a place like Renton, or if it's going to be something that we decide. And they felt it was more important for the voters to decide. 

[00:18:37] Crystal Fincher: Right, because there was an opportunity for the council to choose to enact this without this having to go to the voters. The council could have made this happen - certainly a number of residents were asking the council to do just that. Residents, organizations, some small businesses that we saw in the area saying - We don't need to go through the time and expense of an election, we can just make this happen when we know it's the right thing to do. The majority of the council opted not to do that, so it is going to residents. Maria, what has been the feedback that you've been receiving from residents and businesses in Renton? 

[00:19:12] Maria Abando: So we've had a lot of feedback, a lot of concerns - of course. As we've kind of touched on, things are really, really expensive. And whether that's rent, whether that's cost of your groceries, cost of your fuel, whatever - folks are really struggling to make ends meet. So it's no surprise that when we talk about raising the minimum wage, there are folks who would get concerned that this is just going to end up raising the costs of everything else. And the fact of the matter is that isn't true. We have seen that after SeaTac and Seattle raised their minimum wages years ago, the vast majority of businesses ended up doing just fine and didn't have to really raise prices too much, or have to hurt businesses or force them to close. Studies actually show that raising the minimum wage does benefit small businesses by doing lots of things like reducing employee turnover and absenteeism, because not as many folks are going out and chasing those higher wages. It increases worker productivity because workers are feeling good, earning a little more, feeling proud to work where they work because they're treated right. It puts money back into the local economy because it increases, for us as consumers, our purchasing power. You got a little bit more money to spend at the Renton farmer's market. You got a little more money to spend downtown in Renton businesses. And overall, just helps ensure that working families can afford to live in Renton. So I think there was some pushback around - Are things going to get more expensive? Is this going to hurt small businesses? And we know studies show that that's not the case. 

I also think that we have gotten some feedback at the doors where folks might say - Yeah, isn't raising wages something that our legislators are supposed to do? Our councilmembers - isn't that something they're supposed to do? Isn't that something that unions do? Like I'm part of a union, and unions are the ones who negotiate wages for me. So that's something that we've heard. And of course, of course, right - in a perfect world, yes, our councilmembers, our legislators would do this. We know that the fight for higher wages does need a multifaceted approach and is connected to so many other pushes. We do need unions to continue to be empowered to negotiate higher wages for workers. And again, that's why we're super proud to have the support - I named a few of the unions, but there are, I think, 15 endorsed local labor unions. And I didn't mention, but thank you, Carmen, including the Boeing Workers Union, which is IAM&AW 751. The healthcare workers unions, public school teachers unions - the Highline Education Association included. We saw 2023 being a strong year for labor and for labor unions - from Starbucks to the UW grad students and so on and so on. And so, yes, of course, we want unions to be able to do this. And that's why they are working in-hand with us as well to make sure that we hit this from a really multifaceted approach. 

And two, are our legislators supposed to be doing this? We've hit on this a little bit. Yes, our coalition did show up strong at a December 4th Renton City Council meeting asking our Renton City councilmembers to just pass this outright. We had done a small letter-writing campaign to them, and so we did get folks to send over a hundred letters to our Renton City councilmembers before that meeting that were asking them to pass this - many of them unique. And like you have hit on, Carmen was our lone supporter. There were others that - on the council - more conservative members that ended up speaking against it. One of the councilmembers, even before it got started - perhaps seeing the amount of people that showed up - made a proposal at the start of the campaign to reduce the amount of time that people that showed up could testify and could speak. That was tough to see. But after meeting with more councilmembers and continuing to uplift why this is important, we were proud to be able to get the endorsements of two more councilmembers after that - Kim-Khánh Văn and Ryan McIrvin. And so we can see that we are gaining steam. And even when we can't necessarily do this by city council, the people can coalesce and come together and raise wages ourselves. 

[00:23:37] Councilmember Carmen Rivera: And I do want to add that we got real direct feedback - part of the initiative, you have a position open up - you have to offer those hours of that position to any part-time employee before you hire a new employee to ensure that you are not taking advantage of your employees by only having them work part-time so you do not have to pay them benefits, which is a way that we've seen employees and part-time employees and minimum wage employees be exploited. And so that was one of the things, I think, a lot of feedback was given. And when you look at the money - and always follow the money - 60% of the City of Renton revenue comes from our business taxes and sales taxes. And so the business community has a very heavy influence in politics - understandably so - and especially organizations that might be a little biased when it comes to advocating for workers over business interests and, in my opinion, corporate greed. 

[00:24:33] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, certainly all feedback is welcome. Everyone in the community has a stake in this - whether they're an employer paying people, whether they're an employee, other people who live and work in the city, other organizations and entities. But it really is about how out of balance things have gotten. And being responsive to community needs - it is not easy to collect that amount of signatures. I think for people who are not acquainted with signature gathering, it's like - Oh, you know, you just need a few thousand signatures. 10,000- 20,000 - just as many people thought - just set up at The Landing, or go to Renton River Days, or do whatever you want to do - gather a bunch of signatures there. Those are the worst places to gather signatures when you're in a place, especially like Renton, that has a high volume of people commuting in and out to work, the high volume of people, like you talked about, living in unincorporated King County and not Renton proper - the municipal boundaries. So it does take going door-to-door, it does take a long concerted effort, and it does take legitimate interest from the residents in the city. And so to me, what was striking was to see how dismissive some councilmembers were to the residents of the city who didn't just sit at home and think - Ah, this would be good. But took a step to say - You know what? I actually want this to change. I believe this should change. I believe this specific policy should be enacted, and I'm willing to go this other route if the council doesn't enact it themselves. That, to me, should have been a sign to the council - okay, let's at least listen. Let's see if maybe there's something workable here that we can work with, even if there was a compromise, right? Some kind of responsiveness to the residents who live there. Unfortunately, we didn't see that. But there is an opportunity for the residents to do this themselves, which we've seen them do in other cities. And in other states, frankly - some southern states have raised their minimum wage in places that people consider to be really conservative, are saying it's in the community's interest to make sure that we aren't trapping people in poverty by enabling them to work without making a wage that can support the basics in our own community. Everyone loses when that happens. And so this is why I'm excited and gratified to see this happen and this step be taken in response to what the residents have asked for via petition. 

So now we're at the point where this is now a campaign. And a lot of times when campaigns happen and you're like - This is a good thing - especially when we're talking about issues impacting the business community, opposition occurs. Opposition appears. And that is what's happened here in Renton. So what have you seen with this opposition and how are you countering that, Carmen? 

[00:27:30] Councilmember Carmen Rivera: Yeah, it's been interesting to see the opposition pop up. It came very quickly and very swiftly. And this was something that we were afraid of and tried to anticipate when we wanted this to be adopted outright - and that was my argument. We saw in 2022 the lowest voter turnout since 1936 in recorded King County history - incredibly concerning because people are a little, I think, apathetic and tired around politics and who can blame them? And so when the opposition came - almost a week after the meeting where we decided to place this on the ballot - the Washington Hospitality Association, the Washington Retailers Association, the Seattle Hospitality for Progress, all tried to create a No-PAC to campaign against raising the minimum wage. And they have raised, I believe, close to $96,000 at this point. 

[00:28:25] Maria Abando: Seattle Hospitality for Progress itself dropped $20K at the start of the year, which is a whole thing. 

[00:28:30] Councilmember Carmen Rivera: And it's just happening so quickly - that's the other aspect of it. We've been working on this movement for a year. And in that time, we've raised maybe $75,000 in a year. And from organizers - no corporations - organizers and organizational groups that are about people and community and coalition building. And in a matter of days, almost $100,000 has been raised by these corporations. And mind you, these are the corporations that are going to be most directly impacted. How the ordinance reads - and this is not being advertised specifically by the Renton Chamber of Commerce, which is believed to be an apolitical organization. However, they've gotten very politically involved - the president and CEO has become one of the champions, again, in the No campaign - using her platform and privilege to actually spread misinformation and to fearmonger some of her small business owners and some of the members of her Chamber. There is no information being spread in the business community, sadly, that if you have fewer than 15 employees, you're entirely exempt from this initiative. This initiative will not apply to you if you have fewer than 15 employees. If you have anywhere between 15 and 499, it is more of a tiered-step system, where I believe it's $2 the first year and then $1 every year after that. And so there is a more understandable system there when you explain it like that. And the direct impact, which is why we have this No-PAC created, is going to be to Walmart, Home Depot, Applebee's, Red Robin, Topgolf, World Market, LA Fitness, Starbucks, McDonald's, Fred Meyer, Safeway, gas stations, Target - those are the individuals that we're asking to pay just a few more dollars so people can have a little bit more comfort to live. And so I want to ask voters, and even those who are campaigning against this initiative - the entire No-PAC - can you really look me in my eye and tell me that the person who makes your coffee in the morning, or the person that you order your food from, or the person who checks you out, or helps you out at putting stuff away at Walmart, or helps direct you at Home Depot, or is working at Fred Meyer - doesn't deserve a livable wage? And that is going to be an interesting conversation to have on January 31st when we actually are going to be debating this at Carco Theater in Renton. 

[00:30:49] Maria Abando: And many of those corporations are making record profits right now, and they can easily afford a modest wage increase for their lowest paid employees. I also have some questions and concerns about the Renton Chamber of Commerce spearheading a lot of this opposition work, because they are supposed to be an official 501c6 - nonpartisan, apolitical, receives public funds to be able to maintain operations - and being a top contributor to the No-PAC is concerning. And I'll be honest too - although I wasn't as super familiar with the Renton Chamber of Commerce when I was jumping into this, I am absolutely familiar with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Folks who have been around in Seattle labor conversations - the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber were the ones that filed that lawsuit against the JumpStart Tax in 2020. They were crying that the JumpStart Tax was taking away the right of residents to earn a living wage - so they do know the concept of what a living wage is, which is funny because the JumpStart taxes for qualifying businesses taxed 0.7% for every employee making over $150,000. So if you're telling me $150,000 of a salary is a living wage, then okay - say that then. And then I think it increased for employees that are going over $500,000. So these folks know what a living wage is, and they spread misinformation to protect their bottom lines. 

I also have to just shout out and appreciate the dope Hacks & Wonks episode at the end of last year that Shannon moderated with BJ Last and Amy Sundberg from Solidarity Budget - when they were highlighting, again, that it wasn't just back in 2020 that the Chamber was getting involved with this. The Chamber was still involved now - they called out how the Seattle Metro Chamber has still been trying to pause the JumpStart Tax. And I believe it was Shannon as well that reminded us all that 15% of the JumpStart Tax revenue is supposed to be going towards small businesses. So if the Chamber is supposed to be supporting small businesses, why are they trying to prevent that 15% from going to small businesses in support of them? The Seattle Hospitality for Progress - again, the group that dropped that $20,000 into this No-PAC at the beginning of the year - happens to share an office in the building and work, probably together, with the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Washington Hospitality Association. So they want to spread misinformation and say that - Oh, you know, this whole initiative is folks coming out of the region coming to change the identity of Renton - which is a little bit of dog whistling, in my opinion - but also not being transparent of the fact that they are pouring in thousands from other cities to be able to try and stop this from happening, something that will deny the lowest wage workers a living wage and continue to place the burden on the lowest wage workers of Renton. 

[00:33:57] Councilmember Carmen Rivera: It's disappointing. I believe chamber of commerce organizations are important. I think they're a valuable part of the community. I think that there is a lot of potential when it comes to chamber of commerce because you do want a small business community that is thriving. And you want a small business community that can grow, and I appreciate that. It's really just unfortunate where you see certain biases and power plays being utilized. And that's really just doing a disservice to the community because a very new Renton, a growing type of Renton, is coming here. And I think they're very scared of that. I think it threatens what they believe to be kind of their way of life. And I think there's a lot of emotion at play in terms of who's supporting this initiative and who isn't. And I just want us to all be able to have a wholehearted conversation without emotions and feelings. 

[00:34:49] Maria Abando: And at the end of the day - regardless of the opposition - we are very, very positive, Crystal. We know that we have a really, really strong winning strategy. And that winning strategy is engaging community. At the doors - I mentioned some of the questions and the feedback, but I didn't mention how many people were just immediately so overwhelmingly supportive as well. Many people recognizing - yes, things are so expensive. And so, yes, we need this. I know people who are working low wage jobs and I know folks who could really use this. So we engage community. We engage our unions. We are going back and engaging our signature signers, since we did have so many of those folks sign and so many of those folks write letters and express support. We're, again, engaging those businesses. And finding ways to continue to register voters and expand the electorate so that we can just turn out the vote. So I think the opposition is going to opposition. And we're just going to continue to keep on marching, keep on pushing, and don't stop until we win a more livable wage for folks. 

[00:35:57] Councilmember Carmen Rivera: And I think you bring up a really good point, Maria - because what we've also seen in King County over the years is the more that there is a nasty No campaign, it actually gives more power to the initiative and the campaign that is happening. And we've seen kind of these hateful campaigns backfire. And that's really my hope - because we've been on the ground for over a year - meeting with residents, outreaching to community, working with workers and business owners and community organizers and unions to make sure that we can get this passed. Because I think if we can get this passed in Renton, we can see this passed in other South King County cities. And I think that is also what is scary to the Washington Hospitality Association, the Chamber, and this No-PAC - because this will signal a changing tide. 

[00:36:44] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. I think the time is now. This is a really important and necessary thing to do for our communities. And hearing some of the opposition saying that this isn't the role of local government, but fighting against minimum wages overall - I think this has been said several times online - but that's basically their admission that they would be paying you less right now if they were legally allowed to. I don't think anyone thinks that's where we need to be. In this era where we are hearing of record profits - billion dollar profits - looking at CEO and executive compensation in the tens or hundreds of millions, the idea that raising the minimum wage - the wages of your lowest wage workers, and not all of your middle management, not your executive pay and compensation packages. Not any of that contributes to higher prices - when we've seen pay stagnate and prices climb anyway. So it really isn't an issue. This threat, I think, is losing teeth of - Well, if we raise low wage workers' wages, then things are going to get more expensive for you. Well, you haven't done that and things have gotten more expensive and now no one can afford it because wages are too low. So we really need to address this and we need to give people in communities power to buy from the businesses in their communities. What we see when lower wage workers make more is that has a direct and immediate impact on local businesses, on businesses inside that community - because now people do have the money to spend on it. 

So I'm eager to see this - looking forward to the remainder of the campaign. If people want to get involved in this campaign and help spread the word before the February 13th deadline for this election, how can they do so? 

[00:38:28] Maria Abando: Yes, so we definitely need people's support. We need folks to give what they can, especially volunteering. And so you can get involved at Additionally, I would not be doing my due diligence if I did not come to all of y'all and remind everybody that these types of efforts do take funds. When we are up against large PACs that are being able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, it makes it more important for us to be able to send out mailers and have yard signs. We are hoping to raise $10,000 before Election Day to help dispel some of the lies and the misinformation that the No-PAC are sending out and also just to uplift the coalition and uplift the positivity of what we're bringing. And so I really, really ask everybody to consider, if you can, to also donate. And you can do that at - so it's short link - and that RTWR is capitalized. So please, please, please, folks - regardless if you're in Renton or not, we really, really need and appreciate the support. 

I also just want to uplift just again from a personal standpoint that we're in a moment where we are seeing 67% of Black folks in Renton living in poverty. We are seeing 72% of Latino folks living in poverty as well. And so just again, the recognition that we are really working to uplift folks like this. This is not only a struggle for labor. This is a racial justice struggle. This is a struggle, in general, for anybody that is struggling right now. And so we are committed to standing and staying in this fight for the long run, regardless. We know that this campaign is going to end and we're going to keep on pushing. Even after this campaign is over, our PAC does not dissolve. We are going to continue to stay and continue to walk businesses, continue to educate folks on what they can do to support with implementation, what they can do next. Maybe we work with Carmen on tenants' rights. Maybe we continue to take what we've learned and see if we can support in the coalitions in other cities to be able to get this done. So really, this is not something that's going to be over in February. We need folks to sign up. We need folks to help us knock doors. We need folks, if you happen to be in a South King County city - that you're hoping to see this be implemented in your city as well - join now. Join now. Because community endures, and we're going to keep on going. 

[00:41:20] Councilmember Carmen Rivera: Absolutely. And I would also ask - what is really forgotten by people who only live in Renton and only have ever lived in Renton is that there are people who used to live in Renton who would like to move back to Renton. There are people who are only living outside of Renton temporarily - I lived in Seattle for a minute, I owned in Redmond for a hot second. And I wanted to also come back home to Renton. And I was privileged enough to be able to do so. Not everyone has that ability. And so I meet students, I meet young graduates. I meet people that are either from Renton, they lived in Renton for a minute, or they got priced out of Renton - they want to come back to Renton. And if you have any tie to Renton, if you know anybody in Renton - if you care about South King County - help us get out the vote. Please, I am begging of you, so we do not give this election up to the old Renton that does not want to include the new, diverse, forward-thinking, progressive Renton. I want to involve all Renton, and so I want to make sure all of Renton is going to be able to vote in February. So my ask is please text your friends, post on your TikTok, your Twitter, your Facebook, your MySpace, your Snapchat, your Instagram, whatever. Just get the vote or get the word out there that we need to vote and get those ballots in by February 13th if you live in incorporated Renton - please. Because what we've also seen is the Washington Hospitality Association has bragged on their podcast about pushing off the unincorporated King County raise the wage initiative that Girmay Zahilay introduced last year. And so we need to really combat, again, corporate greed, corporate PACs, the Washington Hospitality Association - and advocate for workers and those that really need this, because that's who I'm fighting for. 

[00:43:02] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Well, we will include links in our episode notes to the campaign and where people can get more information and get more involved. We thank you, Maria and Councilmember Carmen, for taking the time to help educate us about the Raise the Wage Renton campaign. Thanks so much. 

[00:43:21] Councilmember Carmen Rivera: Thank you. 

[00:43:22] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is produced by Shannon Cheng. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on every podcast service and app - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at and in the podcast episode notes. 

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.