Andrew Barry at Village Books in Bellingham. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Andrew Barry at Village Books in Bellingham. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

All workers in state must be offered sick leave as of Jan. 1

Also, the minimum wage rises to $11.50 per hour, up 50 cents.

BELLINGHAM — A new year, a new wage hike.

On Jan. 1, the next phase of the Washington minimum wage law goes into effect. Employers will now have to pay workers at least $11.50 per hour, as well as provide paid sick leave. The new minimum wage is a 50-cent increase, relatively small compared to the beginning of 2017, when it shot up from $9.47 to $11.

The paid sick leave requirement is new. All workers, full-, part-time and seasonal, will accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked. It must be paid at their normal hourly wage. Workers can use that paid leave if they get sick or if they need to care for a sick family member, if their workplace or child’s school or childcare is closed for a health-related reason, or to flee a domestic violence situation.

Eric Grimstead, of the Small Business Development Center, has been helping small businesses through the process of implementing this new phase of the law, Initiative 1433, which Washington voters passed in 2016.

The center, part of Western Washington University, advises local small businesses. Grimstead has been helping clients break down the numbers for the new changes.

“The smartest thing to do is look at the real dollar and cents impact of what might be the maximum exposure,” Grimstead said. He recommends that businesses build it into their budgets assuming employees will take their maximum sick leave.

“Prepare for the worst case scenario,” he said. “And then if it winds up being slightly different than that, then you’re going to be better off.”

It’s possible that employees might not use all their sick leave. Grimstead said it’s common that employees don’t use all of their sick days. After calculating how much it could cost, Grimstead said, business owners need to look at where that money is going to come from, whether they can streamline their business somehow or raise prices.

“Paid sick leave and other mandates are beyond the control of the business owner,” Grimstead said. “But there are plenty of things they can do that are within the business operations.”

Grimstead said he doesn’t know whether the sick leave will help or hurt business’ bottom line.

“The assumption is if people are sick they’re not going to show up for work,” he said.

That’s not always true, however. Some workers may not be able to afford any loss in pay, and come in to work even when they’re sick. That could mean a loss in productivity. They might also spread their sickness to the other employees, eventually leading them to lose productivity or take time off as well.

In theory, offering paid sick leave could be more efficient, and might actually save money, Grimstead said. Businesses will have to wait and find out.

Jeremy Hawkinson, who owns the coffee stand Cool Beans with his wife Kelli, are getting ready to raise prices again at the beginning of the year, to make up for the new labor costs.

They have three locations, all in Bellingham, and 11 part-time employees. Adjusting to the minimum wage increase last year was rough, Hawkinson said.

“Last year was a big hit,” Hawkinson said.

They had to make up costs wherever they could, which means cutting some hours for their 11 employees, and working more shifts themselves.

Since I-1433 took effect, Hawkinson said they’ve had to rethink their business.

“It make us question if this is going to be our long-term plan,” he said. “I’ve had to seriously consider taking another job just to supplement our income.”

Along with their increased labor costs this year, their cost of goods went up, as vendors had to charge more to keep up with their own increased labor costs.

The impact of the latest stage of I-1433 is a little harder to calculate, as Hawkinson doesn’t know for sure how many employees will call in sick. He thinks it will probably go up, however.

More workers taking sick days probably means Hawkinson and his wife will be covering those shifts themselves, he said, since all but one of his employees are students and when they’re not working they’re usually in class.

“Jobs like this, it’s not supposed to be a living wage,” he said. “We don’t expect any one to come in here and make a career off of being a barista.”

Some businesses, however, do want their employees to spend their careers there.

Village Books has to invest some time in training its employees, and wants to keep them there.

“We encourage longevity,” co-owner Paul Hanson said.

The bookstore has offered paid sick leave since he can remember.

“We don’t want our employees to have to choose between taking sick leave and taking a wage,” he said.

They also don’t want any employees to come in and interact with other employees or customers if they’re sick.

To his knowledge, employees only take the leave if they actually need it.

“I don’t feel like it’s something that’s been taken advantage of,” he said.

Paid sick leave is just one of the benefits Village Books offers its employees. It also provides paid vacation, and supports employees philanthropic and educational efforts.

“If that instills some loyalty and keeps them here for a long time, that’s even better,” Hanson said.

Those benefits have always been a part of the Village Books business model, he said.

“It’s worked into our system,” he said.

What they’ve had to add to their system, however is the higher minimum wage.

They’re paying for that by continuing to streamline their book-buying process, and eliminating superfluous steps from the system.

The company supports the new wage, and advocated for I-1433 before the vote in 2016. Even if I-1433 didn’t pass, Hanson said, the store was planning on following the gradual wage increase.

It might be painful in the short term, Hanson said, but in the long term setting up a business model that allows for higher wages will pay off.

With the higher minimum wage, Hanson believes that money will come back to the store, as more workers in the community get more disposable income.

If they shop online, however, Whatcom County will see much less of that money.

“If all of that extra money goes into Amazon’s pocket,” he said, “that will ultimately hurt Bellingham.”

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal owner Tom Harrison at his brick and mortar storefront on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Near-death experience planted seeds for downtown Everett toy store

Former attorney Tom Harrison survived 9/11. It caused him to ask what’s important in life. Today, he runs MyMyToyStore.

Sean Jones, membership executive of Everett's Freedom Boat Club, helps club member Carolyn Duncan load equipment onto her boat before she and a friend head out crabbing onThursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the Port of Everett in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New Everett franchise offers boats at Everett Marina

Freedom Boat Club’s newest Washington location is in Everett, with six boats available to its members.

Devin Ryan, left to right, talks with Donald Whitley and Drew Yager before a test ride at Bicycle Centres Wednesday in Everett, Washington on August 24, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
New hands take the handlebars for Bicycle Centres

Longtime employees Devin Ryan, Aron Chaudiere and Ryan Brown bought the business that’s been around since 1976.

A truck drives past a sign displaying fuel prices on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Diesel prices stay high for truckers, farmers

Gas prices have fallen steadily this summer, but diesel costs have started to climb again.

FILE - Test engineer Jacob Wilcox pulls his arm out of a glove box used for processing sodium at TerraPower, a company developing and building small nuclear reactors, Jan. 13, 2022, in Everett, Wash. A major economic bill headed to the president has “game-changing” incentives for the nuclear energy industry, experts say, and those tax credits are even more substantial if a facility is sited in a community where a coal plant is closing. Bill Gates' company, TerraPower, plans to build an advanced, nontraditional nuclear reactor and employ workers from a local coal-fired power plant scheduled to close soon. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Everett nuclear research facility gets $750 million infusion

Bellevue’s TerraPower, which operates an Everett facility, got a hefty investment to fund research.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Business briefs: Leadership Snohomish County names new executive director

Plus a new short-term, career programs at Edmonds College, state grants for small businesses and more.

Tim Leonard, owner of the Machine Shop, is closing the arcade this fall. (Photo by David Welton)
Arcade owner to pull plug on beloved Whidbey Island business

Tim Leonard, owner of the Machine Shop in Langley, recently decided he’ll call it quits this fall.

Jennifer Sadinsky is the owner of Grayhorse Mercantile, one of Langley’s newest stores. (David Welton)
Shopkeeper brings taste of Europe to Whidbey Island

A first-time business owner’s dream of opening a cheese shop became a reality this year.

Eviation's all-electric plane in flight Tuesday morning in Moses Lake, Washington, on Sept. 27, 2022. (Eviation)
Arlington’s all-electric plane, Alice, takes first test flight

Eviation Aircraft’s battery-powered plane logs successful first flight from Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake.

At two stores – in Edmonds and Renton – Wide Shoes Only store owner Dominic Ahn offers more than 600 styles of shoes for people with wide feet. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
These Edmonds and Renton shoe stores could change your life

Wide Shoes Only: Huge selection, expert fitting and superior customer service

Amber Weaver, who has worked at the Lakewood Crossing Starbucks for 5 years, with her daughter Melody, outside of her workplace on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Complaint accuses Starbucks of anti-union threats in Marysville

Meanwhile, a mother of two said Thursday that Starbucks refused to accommodate her schedule when she returned from maternity leave.

Snoop Dogg in a video announces the opening of 'Tha Dogg House' in January 2023. (Screenshot).
Dogg toyz: Funko, rapper Snoop Dogg greenlight new retail venture

“Tha Dogg House” opening next year in Inglewood, California, will be Funko’s third U.S. retail store.