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How Can Companies Outside of City Limits Compete with the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance?

On April 1st, 2015, the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance took effect. To summarize it, per the Office of Labor Standards, this legislation, “sets wages for employees working within city limits. The minimum wage will increase every year on January 1 and eventually rise to $15.00/hour.”

At the time of this writing (March 2017), Seattle is in the middle of phase three, which can be vastly different, depending on company size:

  • Employers with 500+ employees in the US are paying the full $15 / hour.
  • If a 500+ employee company pays toward an individual employee’s medical benefits, then the minimum wage in phase three is $13.50 / hour.
  • Employers with fewer than 500 employees in the US are paying $13 / hour.
  • If employers with 500 employees or fewer pay $2 / hour toward medical benefits or an employee earns $2 / hour in tips or commissions, then the employer pays $11 / hour; however, if an employee does not make enough in tips/commissions, the employer is responsible to pay the difference to total $13 / hour.

As the years continue, eventually every employer in Seattle will be paying $15 / hour… but what does this mean for those companies just outside of Seattle that may be competing for the same talent? How can companies in places like Everett, Bellevue, and Issaquah, keep people employed in their respective cities instead of flocking to work within Seattle city limits?

Emphasize Transit Cost (and Time!) Savings to your Employees

If you’re on the East Side and have ever worked in Seattle, you know commuting can be a struggle… an expensive struggle. Parking for an 8-hour workday can range from $10-25, bridge tolls during peak hours can be anywhere from $4-6, and even HOT lane tolls can be as high as $7.75 in high-traffic areas! While transit is a much more affordable option, monthly transit passes can still induce a little bit of sticker shock to the average commuter. Sure, $15 / hour sounds good to candidates at first, but if it takes 1-2 hours of work to make up the cost of just getting to work, that job may get old quickly… not to mention that they can save a significant amount of time, too. A recent study revealed Seattle drivers spend roughly 55 hours stuck in traffic per year (10th in the nation). The appeal of being close to home means getting home at a much more reasonable hour, which is especially enticing for families.

If you do use cost savings to your advantage, sweeten the pot by offering subsidized transportation and parking. Candidates may not be so quick to turn their nose up to $13 / hour roles closer to home.

Offer Structured, Performance-Based Raise Programs

We know this may be a challenge for many smaller organizations, but if you’re an organization with a sizable staff, consider offering small, incremental raises for high performance. By rolling it out as a program, you can establish clear-cut guidelines and a uniform structure for all employees in a specific department/role.

A great place to start something like this might be your Customer Service team. Typically, entry-level Customer Service Representatives on the South End can start anywhere between $11-13 / hour. By offering 25-50¢ raises to those that meet goals within a certain time-frame, you attract candidates who will work hard to meet goals, and retain staff by offering new, clear incentives for growth and opportunity.

Another alternative, that may be especially helpful for smaller organizations, requires a bit of math. Sit down and work with accounting & HR to calculate what it would cost to train a new hire. Take that amount, and consider using it to instead fund a bonus program tied to employee longevity.

Keep the State Minimum Wage in Mind

So the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance doesn’t apply, but the state ordinance does. Washington’s State Initiative 1433 was passed in November 2016, raising the state minimum to $11 / hour. This initiative set future minimum wage rates over the next four years – peaking at $13.50 / hour in 2020. The state’s minimum wage is something to keep in mind for performance-based initiative plans. Continue to update your performance-based initiatives each year so star performers continue to receive increases to reflect their success – even if it’s just 25-50¢ above your starting hourly rate.

Showcase Your Strengths!

If your starting hourly rate under Seattle’s climb to $15, press pause and take a minute to review your strengths. Why would someone want to work for your company? Why do you work for your company? Approach your employees and ask them, “what makes you enjoy working here?”

If you come up with some strong answers, use those as your bread and butter. This is the information you should be putting on your careers page and in your job descriptions. It will attract the right kind of candidate – the one that best resonates with your culture. If you’re utilizing a staffing partner like Parker, make sure these highlights are clearly communicated with the recruiting team; this gives them the right tools to find and attract viable candidates.

Here are some great highlight examples from our clients that can help attract candidates to their positions:

  • An office with a beautiful view of Lake Washington
  • A bus-accessible location, with proximity to major bus lines
  • An office with easy access to highways like 405, I-5, and 90
  • Discounts on the company’s products
  • All-Company get-togethers: picnics, BBQs, community events
  • A generous PTO package (see what competitors offer to see if your PTO package can be considered “generous”)
  • Subsidized education when relevant to the industry or department

Don’t be hesitant here. If you believe your culture is great, tell the world it’s great! Even in the North end, a candidate will find you, fall in love with your culture, and want to be part of it.


If you’re having a difficult time reaching candidates, let us help! Temporary agencies like Parker have an established network and can pin-point exactly who would be a match for your organization.

The benefit of working with Parker is that recruiting is what we do 24/7/365 – and it’s been that way for over 35 years. With a steady flow of Puget Sound candidates, and long-standing partnerships with local recruiting sources, we will identify the talent unique to your region and your company culture. Just leave the recruiting to us, so you can get back to doing what you do best!

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