Dufault minimum wage

Brandon Robillard, right, orders a cup of ice cream from Dave Tompkins, owner of North Town Coffeehouse, a Yakima small business, on Dec. 16, 2019.

The Noah’s Ark homeless shelter in Wapato is the only homeless shelter in the lower Yakima Valley. Its founder named it after his deceased wife, Rev. Sheri Noah, who envisioned eliminating homelessness on the Yakama Reservation.

Noah’s Ark never closes, which makes it a full-time job and then some for the shelter’s four employees and its operations director. The director accepts less than $40,000 a year because she believes in the mission and knows that the shelter cannot afford to pay her more.

Washington state’s new overtime rules, on top of recent minimum wage increases, will cause many small businesses and nonprofits like Noah’s Ark to close their doors.

Created by the state Department of Labor & Industries at the direction of Gov. Jay Inslee, the regulations determine how much salaried workers must be paid in order to be exempt from overtime requirements. The current amount is $13,000, which we all would probably agree is too low. Inslee’s plan raises that to $35,100 this year and increases it annually until the figure reaches $83,356 in 2028.

That’s absurd. Not every community in our state is downtown Seattle, where every other person makes $200,000 a year. Many Central Washington businesses and nonprofits do not have a single employee making $83,000 a year — including the owner or the executive director.

In a recent Seattle Times op-ed, L&I Director Joel Sacks wrote that the eight-year phase-in of the new rates “gives employers time to consider their options and make adjustments that best fit their business.” Business owners and nonprofits in Selah, Yakima, Toppenish and Sunnyside don’t need eight years. They already know their options. They can raise prices, cut employee hours or close their doors. And if these regulations remain in place, many will have to choose the third option.

I’m proposing a bill in the Legislature that will soften the blow by linking state overtime rules to the median hourly wage earned in each individual county — with King County the highest at $33.26 and Okanogan County the lowest at $16.50. It just doesn’t make sense to use a one-size-fits-all approach when wages and cost of living vary so dramatically across our state.

Under my bill, House Bill 2404, King County will stay on the current scale — up to $83,356 in 2028. But in the counties with the lowest average wages —Okanogan, Adams and Yakima counties — the 2028 number will be closer to $43,000. That’s still several thousand dollars above the recently updated federal requirement, and a three-fold increase over the current state level.

Such a change to Gov. Inslee’s plan will allow more nonprofits and businesses to survive, and it will save thousands of jobs. It will also provide more opportunity for management trainees to begin a career and for midlevel managers to work their way up the ladder.

Many of our state’s businesses and nonprofits, especially those without backing from large, national organizations, would be in danger of closing without these adjustments. The Noah’s Ark homeless shelter in Wapato is just one example.

Jeremie Dufault is a Republican from Selah. He represents the 15th Legislative District in the state House of Representatives.