MOUNT VERNON — Grounds maintenance workers with local company Chinook Enterprises can breath a sigh of relief. Their jobs are safe.
Thanks to an emergency ruling passed March 11 by the state Department of Labor & Industries, the hourly wage for the Chinook Enterprises workers was set at $14.18 after it was due to be increased to $59.49 as a result of a 2018 state law.
The increase would likely have forced Chinook — a Mount Vernon social enterprise company that supports those with disabilities — to shut down its grounds division, and 14 employees, including nine with disabilities, would have been let go as the division’s clients went with less expensive options.
“Everybody is so happy,” said Rebecca Murray, marketing and public relations representative with Chinook. “They’re practically floating on air.”
The new law gives Labor & Industries the responsibility of setting wages for work done on municipal properties.
Prior to the ruling, landscape maintenance and landscape construction were lumped into the same category, thus triggering the wage increase.
The emergency ruling created a new labor category called landscape maintenance, which allowed Labor & Industries to set a prevailing wage commensurate with the type of work performed by those at companies such as Chinook.
Chinook’s grounds crew maintains about 850 acres of land on 11 properties throughout the county, including the Port of Skagit, Port of Anacortes, Skagit Valley Hospital and Skagit Valley College.
With wages back down, Murray said Chinook was able to sign its 2019 contracts with the Port of Skagit and Port of Anacortes last week. The remaining nine contracts are expected to be signed later this year.
“It’s such a huge victory,” she said. “We’re grateful for the community’s support.”
— Reporter Leah Allen: 360-416-2149, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Leah_SVH