Brad Read: Proposition 1 will lift workers from poverty

October 18, 2015 – Spokesman-Review – Opinion –  On June 3, 2014, the mayor of Seattle signed into law an ordinance that will, over time, increase the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour, following the lead of the city of SeaTac months earlier.

In the debate before the ordinance was passed, and in subsequent repeal efforts, many Seattle business owners warned of economic doom, that increasing wages would cause businesses to shut down or relocate, and that there would be massive job loss. In the last few weeks, at least two reports have demonstrated just the opposite to be true: business is good, unemployment is down, and business owners who swore they’d never open another business have done exactly that.

What happened, and what is happening, in Seattle, is at the heart of the debate over Proposition 1 in the City of Spokane: the Worker Bill of Rights.

Prop. 1 would guarantee a living wage for anyone who works for a large employer (150 employees or more). It would guarantee equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, race, disability, etc. (assuming workers have equivalent experience and qualifications). And it would guarantee that a worker not be fired from her/his job unless the employer provided just, work-related cause.

The stories of the drastic, if not catastrophic, effects if Prop. 1 passes have already begun. Those committed to defeating it have already spread their message of economic devastation in the wake of the measure’s passage. They have provided no evidence, no data to back up their doomsday predictions; simply, they say that negative consequences will ensue, with certainty.

The fact is that, like Seattle, there are dozens of places where wages have been increased, and the net effect on the community is positive. When wages increase, people have more to spend in the local economy. When workers make enough to live on, they rely less on public assistance. When workers have a measure of job security, knowing that they cannot be fired at will, they will do a better job at work. And, the only place in the United States that currently has a law requiring just cause for termination — Montana, since 1987 — has not seen any spike in unemployment, nor any detrimental effects to the economy as a whole.

The simple truth is this: Those opposed to Prop. 1, by arguing against it, will keep working people in Spokane in poverty. They are saying that the big employers, those who can afford to pay their workers better, shouldn’t really have to. Those from the No on Prop 1 campaign — GSI, the Spokane Home Builders Association, the Downtown Spokane Partnership, the Washington Retail Association, et al., in short, those who are used to running things — would have you believe that wages should improve for Spokane workers, but that “this isn’t the way to do it.” But if you keep workers at low wages, you keep them in poverty.

Think about that: working a full-time schedule at minimum wage, the nation’s highest, still keeps you in poverty. That is unconscionable, and it needs to end now. And Prop. 1 is the way to do it, and it would give Spokane workers the pay and working conditions they’ve deserved for a long time.

This Nov. 3, don’t succumb to the politics of fear and misinformation. Take a stand on behalf of the working families of Spokane by voting yes on Proposition 1. Act concretely to improve their quality of life: We’re the ones who can.

Brad Read is a lifelong resident of Spokane, a high school English teacher, and the campaign manager of the Yes on Proposition 1 campaign.

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