Sumner company makes investment in employees, raises minimum wage to $15 an hour

In a world where corporations routinely outsource manufacturing to developing countries or move their plants to the South to cut production and employment costs, Sumner’s Torklift International is going against the trend.

The privately held manufacturer of recreational vehicle parts and accessories told its 55 employees last week it is raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Those raises, effective this week, will raise some workers’ pay by $4 an hour. About 40 percent of the company’s workers had pay rates below $15 an hour. They’ll all see the boosts in compensation in their next paychecks.

“It’s something we’ve been thinking about for some time,” said Jay Taylor, the company’s general manager. “It’s been one of our key objectives to implement to elevate our game for the future.”

The wage increases are expected to cost the company $300,000 or more during the remainder of 2014, but the raises were enthusiastically approved by the the company’s stockholders, said Taylor.

Employees’ reaction to the announcement was positive, said company executives.

“It was one of the most rewarding moments in my career,” said Taylor. “There was genuine emotion in the room.”

Josh Long, a nine-month employee at Torklift, said the raise will allow him to afford a better home where his daughter can play in the backyard.

“It’s really more like a family here than a regular workplace,” he said. The company, he said, shows real concern for its workers.

Jack Kay, the company’s president and chief executive, said the raises weren’t corporate charity, but a recognition of how the company’s workers have contributed to creating the company’s reputation for building quality products.

Taylor said the higher wages will help the company retain experienced workers in whom Torklift has invested considerable time and money to train.

The higher wages also may improve the pool of potential employees from which the company has to pick when new jobs open up.

The company is a drug-free workplace, said Taylor, because of the danger of working with heavy machinery and metal parts.

Several years ago, about 20 percent of potential workers failed the company’s initial drug screening. Now, that number has risen to 7 in 10. Most of those who fail test positive for marijuana, said Taylor.

While the recent move to raise workers’ minimum wages to $15 an hour in the City of SeaTac and in Seattle over a three-year period was part of the consideration for raising Torklift wages, it was a relatively minor factor in the final decision, said Taylor.