Suit says CPI should reach new high before wage goes up

By STEVE BROWNand MITCH LIES

Capital Press

Washington employers are challenging the minimum wage increase in court, arguing it doesn't meet the criteria spelled out in state law.

The Washington State Farm Bureau and a coalition of business groups have filed a motion for summary judgment in Kittitas County challenging the state's decision to increase the minimum wage by 12 cents an hour, to $8.67.

The Oregon Farm Bureau said this week it is watching the case closely, but doesn't plan to file suit at this time.

Under voter-approved initiatives in Washington and Oregon, minimum-wage adjustments are tied to increases in the Consumer Price Index. The CPI fell in 2009, then rose again in 2010 to a level lower than its peak in 2008. The lawsuit asserts that the minimum wage should not be adjusted until the CPI reaches a new high.

The lawsuit echoes the legal advice given by Attorney General Rob McKenna before the state Department of Labor and Industry decided to raise the minimum wage.

Elaine Fischer, L&I spokeswoman, said her agency received more than one opinion and decided that courts would read the law as requiring an increase any time the CPI increases.

Scott Dilley, public policy analyst with the Washington State Farm Bureau, said the compound effect of worker compensation and minimum wage increases "could have a devastating impact on ag."

Washington and Oregon are among 10 states that base minimum wage changes on the CPI, a measure of the costs of goods and service in urban areas.

The two states have the top two minimum wages in the country.

Oregon's minimum is set to increase from $8.40 an hour to $8.50 Jan. 1; Washington's is set to increase from $8.55 an hour to $8.67.

The increase mirrors a 1.15 percent increase in the CPI between 2009 and 2010.

The two states held steady their minimum wages in 2010. Colorado was the only state that lowered its minimum wage in 2010.

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