Paying More for a Drip
Local Coffee Chain Owner Adds Surcharge for Paid Sick Leave
In a move reminiscent of anti-Obamacare restaurant owners, a local coffee chain posted signs last week at all its registers announcing a new "Sick Leave Surcharge" in response to the city's new mandatory sick-leave ordinance. An extra fee of 1.5 percent would be tacked on to all orders, said the signs posted by Ali Ghambari, who owns seven Cherry Street Coffee shops in and around Seattle.
"There were many ways [Ghambari] could have dealt with this," said incensed customer Whitney Little, who sent a photo of the sign to The Stranger. "He could have upped prices slightly to compensate, for example." But instead, says Little, "he chose to call himself out as a royal dickhead for life."
Reached by phone, Ghambari insisted that he isn't a royal dickhead for life. He was concerned that paying for sick leave may encourage employees to fake illness to collect benefits. "We never had sick leave before," he explained, adding that offering the benefit to his staff of more than 45 employees will cost him up to $30,000 a year. "My employees know, hey, you're gonna get 40 hours time off for sick leave. Even if you are not sick, you'll get that paid to you anyway," Ghambari said. "I don't want my employees calling in sick when they're not sick to get a day off."
I asked him how the policy, which took effect last September, would cause employees to be dishonest, since sick leave can only be used for illness or preventative care. He didn't have an answer. "It's not about dishonesty," he told me. "I feel pretty comfy with [this decision]. If some people don't feel good about it, bring it on, we'll talk about it."
The signs called to mind people like Florida restaurant owner John Metz, who announced in November a 5 percent Obamacare surcharge on all tabs, so that customers could choose whether to "pay it and tip 15 or 20 percent, or... reduce the amount of tip they give to the server, who is the primary beneficiary of Obamacare," as he told the Huffington Post in November. Metz had to reverse course after a fierce backlash and boycott threats.
So did Ghambari—sort of. After The Stranger broke the story last week on our blog, Slog, Ghambari pulled the signs down. He still charges an extra fee, he's just not crowing about it at the register.