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Paying More for a Drip

Local Coffee Chain Owner Adds Surcharge for Paid Sick Leave

Paying More for a Drip

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. recommended

 

Comments (33) RSS

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1
Cherry Street Coffee just lost a lot of my business. If a friend insists on going there, I'll go. But I'll never go there of my own volition.

"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."

Guess what, Ghambari, that attitude demonstrates that you are exactly what you say you are not.

Every business has costs. You manage and factor those costs into your business. Your employees are not a liability. We, your customers, do not want them coming in sick because you won't pay them if they are actually sick. If you have an employee who is screwing off, deal with it like any other business owner or manager. If you have a problem hiring quality employees, maybe you shouldn't be in this business.
Posted by blackjenner on February 6, 2013 at 11:42 AM · Report this
2
Yeah, this law may have some growing pains, but eventually we will create a culture of well being. If you truly respect your customers you will hire honest people who will stay home rather than risk infecting your clientele.

Not going to CSC again...wow. just wow. The owner's attitude reflects the fear and distrust prevalent in society.

Posted by shooflu on February 6, 2013 at 12:12 PM · Report this
chinaski 3
Let's kick this dead horse a few more times, shall we?
Posted by chinaski on February 6, 2013 at 12:18 PM · Report this
4
Why would anyone work for this person? He apparently sees employees as "the enemy" not as a useful part of his business. I will never set foot in this establishment again.
Posted by woofy on February 6, 2013 at 2:21 PM · Report this
5
So, this man would rather cause an epidemic by forcing his employees to choose between coming in sick and infecting their co-workers and his customers, instead of doing the decent thing and going along with the paid sick leave law? And he'd rather piss off and drive away his customers rather than quietly cover the cost of paid sick leave?

This attitude might explain why we're STILL in a freaking recession.
Posted by AlaskanbutnotSeanParnell on February 6, 2013 at 3:42 PM · Report this
6
That kind of surcharge is commonplace in San Francisco, ever since the "Healthy San Francisco" law went into effect. But normally you see it in nicer restaurants, not coffee bars. They'll add a flat fee of maybe $1.50 per customer, or 2-4%.
Posted by killer on February 6, 2013 at 3:50 PM · Report this
7
That should have read "between losing a day's pay and coming in sick...".
Posted by AlaskanbutnotSeanParnell on February 6, 2013 at 3:55 PM · Report this
8
BOYCOTT!
Posted by SMAJ on February 6, 2013 at 4:03 PM · Report this
9
yeah. boycott. jerk.
Posted by bob the voter on February 6, 2013 at 4:12 PM · Report this
10
I clearly see things a little differently than most people here....

Sounds to me like Ghambari is exactly right. What prevents an employee from taking advantage of this policy by calling in sick when he or she is not? Proof of a covered absence is only required if the employee is absent on three consecutive work days - a rarity.

I'll be the first to call my self a cynic. And I am guessing that a fair number of employees will use all of their "sick days" as vacation, and then come to work when they actually are sick.

The only thing Ghambari got wrong was posting a notice at all. He should have done what 99% of other affected Seattle business' did when the ordinance passed - quietly raise his prices to compensate.
Posted by David in Shoreline on February 6, 2013 at 7:57 PM · Report this
Jeremy Janson 11
""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.""

It takes a truly petty person to hate someone for going out of their way to tell them where they stand. Even if he loses a few customers this way, I'm sure the atmosphere of his shops will be improved by the lack of their foul stench.
Posted by Jeremy Janson http://hailingfromgeorgia.blogspot.com on February 6, 2013 at 8:00 PM · Report this
Jeremy Janson 12
"He should have done what 99% of other affected Seattle business' did when the ordinance passed - quietly raise his prices to compensate."

No he should not. As a citizen in a Republic, he has a duty to fight the good fight! This city, this state and even this nation have problems because for too long people have kept their mouths shut - it's time to raise some hell!
Posted by Jeremy Janson http://hailingfromgeorgia.blogspot.com on February 6, 2013 at 8:03 PM · Report this
13
It's the LACK of paid sick days that make employees come in sick, not the existence of paid sick days.

Most employees are just as honorable about these things as management is(it's classist and elitist to assume that morality automatically declines as income declines). But, say, a single mother who's trying to do what Republicans want and support her kids by herself(obviously, she's never going to get the kids scumbag father to help on that, as we all know)has no alternative, if she doesn't have paid sick days, to coming into work sick. She has to do that or her kids do not eat one day the next week.

That manager would rather pass diseases to his customers and his other workers than do the decent thing and pay a little extra, a trivial bit extra, to keep his restaurant healthy for everyone.

Once, businesses were willing to do the right thing and absorb costs like that. Once, they didn't see short game as the ONLY thing that mattered.

Where did business owners like this lose their souls?
Posted by AlaskanbutnotSeanParnell on February 6, 2013 at 8:05 PM · Report this
Jeremy Janson 14
"Why would anyone work for this person? He apparently sees employees as "the enemy" not as a useful part of his business. I will never set foot in this establishment again."

In business, everyone is both your enemy and your friend at the very same time. And I don't mean a superficial fake frienemy either - you'll do some great things, things that make you proud and joyous, for them and with them, and even them for you, and you'll even respect each other, but at the same time they will also prey on you. Maybe it is better to say they are both a truly good and close friend, and a PREDATOR, and to some degree, you should be their predator too. When you understand this, you'll start doing better for yourself.
Posted by Jeremy Janson http://hailingfromgeorgia.blogspot.com on February 6, 2013 at 8:08 PM · Report this
Jeremy Janson 15
#13, unlucky number by the way, most businesses give paid sick days without the government telling them they have to.

The lack of ability to regulate your own sick days without government interference can cause (especially young, irresponsible) workers to use their paid sick days irresponsibly, leading eventually to them running out, leading to a lack of paid sick days and them showing up at work. As a business owner, you don't want that to happen, because then your work environment isn't sanitary, so you try to regulate them well enough to be able to use sick days when they have to but not when they don't. In grey areas, you're probably going to side with "please stay home" because getting someone sick can literally program someones mind to hate the taste of your food or coffee in the future.

Now I'm sure the city council considered the problem of trying to permit some self-regulation of sick days, but the fact is that they can't think of everything and they don't really have skin in the game. In short, they're amateurs. What's worse, by making it contractual, you prevent the absolute best method for regulation, the noncontractual courtesy call, where the employer has no legal obligation but can form a CARING PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with his employee and ask all questions that need to be asked and insist on something almost like (but not precisely the same as) tough love.
Posted by Jeremy Janson http://hailingfromgeorgia.blogspot.com on February 6, 2013 at 8:18 PM · Report this
16
So, as an employer, use this opportunity to tell people "go home, you're too sick" when they're sniffly. Then YOU get to revel in them not having holidays, they get to go home and not lose a day's pay and feel better, and your customers don't contract awfulness. Someone else gets an extra shift, which is nice, too. You're going to have to start treating others like full humans, America, get used to it.
Posted by Caralain on February 7, 2013 at 5:57 AM · Report this
Texas10R 17
Some employers need additional incentive to conduct their affairs in an ethical manner.

Perhaps it should be a $1,000 fine for any employer who exposes the public to a contagious employee. Putting a sick person in the kitchen, bar, counter, desk, or anywhere else for that matter, is tantamount to poisoning the public.

Remember the big deal about smoking in the workplace? Why should the flu be considered less critical than second-hand smoke?
Posted by Texas10R on February 7, 2013 at 8:15 AM · Report this
Jeremy Janson 18
#17, that would at least be more reasonable than the present law as at least in such a case you would be directly responsible for your actions.
Posted by Jeremy Janson http://hailingfromgeorgia.blogspot.com on February 7, 2013 at 1:57 PM · Report this
19
@ Jeremy Janson - The world is what we make of it.
Posted by woofy on February 7, 2013 at 2:31 PM · Report this
shurenka 20
Interestingly enough, I have a friend who's a business owner (in a different field -- computer science / programming). He built up and ran a very successful business (to the tune of being a fabled 1 percenter).

And guess what? He found that by offering unconditional paid sick leave, the vast majority of employees abused it less, than if there was a fixed number of days. Because yes, I'll agree that it's tempting to call out when you know you get X number of sick days and it's the end of the year and you can either use it or lose it. This is especially true given how resistant and begrudging employers are about this; it only further encourages the employees to see themselves as not allied with (or even opposed to) their boss's/businesses interests.

Obviously, the fields (comp sci and food/hospitality) are incredibly different, especially in terms of profit margins and employer-employee relationships. But, I think that people tend to live up (or down) to the expectations placed on them. If you treat them as adults, with respect, the majority of people will not want to abuse that good will. If you post signs complaining about having to provide sick leave, or god forbid encouraging people to not tip, then your employees are going to resent you and not give a damn about fucking you over.
Posted by shurenka on February 7, 2013 at 6:23 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 21
What's the point of owning a business if you can't exploit your workers? Especially when it comes to their health?
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on February 8, 2013 at 4:03 AM · Report this
gtk 22
Good for him. If you want people covered who work in the service industry then you need to pay. Suck it up and stop the bitching.
Posted by gtk on February 8, 2013 at 5:56 AM · Report this
JustSayGo 23
The cost of doing business is beset on all sides by expenditures and hidden costs that eat away at your profit margin. We all want to be our own boss and be successful. Some of us open up a business to free ourselves from working for a company that uses us, doesn't appreciate what we bring to their company, and then throws us away. We open a business, and then we realize just how tough it is to get things going. Some of us are successful, we have multiple locations, and a loyal customer base that loves to patronize our establishment.

In this case, a lot of the patrons are people who don't want to go to the corporate green goddess (whom I am sure gives their staff excellent benefits, including sick leave) and so has found another chain with which to do business. If they noticed the price of their coffee and pastries go up 2%, they might chalk it up to the cost of doing business, or that a privately owned chain needs to stay profitable. What they don't expect is to walk into their coffee shop and find a smarmy sign telling them how unhappy the owner is that the city has mandated a paid sick leave policy. Instantlyt telling everyone that walks through the door that, not only is he not ok with this, but that until this point he was not offering his hard working employees paid sick leave; meaning that he doesn't really give two shits about the well being of his staff.

Mr. Business owner, profit margins will shrink. Costs will present themselves. Showing yourself to be a decent individual in the face of these things gets you bonus points. Don't you realize that many of us want to do business with local business owners that are a cut above? That we'd pay a little bit extra knowing we are buying our products from a place that does things the right way? Instead of presenting every customer with a sign that shows just what a douche bag you are, you should do what it takes to run your business, and smile to your employees and welcome this policy. Be a star in their eyes and you will prosper. Without customers your business is history. Without workers, you are back to one location working all day to do it all yourself. Rise above greed. Rise above indignant BS. This is not a punishment or a judgement call, it is a program to make sure that hard working individuals earning minimum wage can afford to be sick once in a while.

I was going to go into corporate greed and sending business overseas to keep profit margins as big as possible, while expecting the people whom these companies stole jobs from to continue to buy their products etc etc. but I don't feel that is necessary.

Be one of the good guys. The world has enough douche bags.
More...
Posted by JustSayGo on February 8, 2013 at 10:05 AM · Report this
Jeremy Janson 24
#19, indeed, and the question is, how does one use their tools?
Posted by Jeremy Janson http://hailingfromgeorgia.blogspot.com on February 8, 2013 at 12:37 PM · Report this
Bonefish 25
22: The increase in price isn't the problem; it's the idiotic "passive aggressive roommate"-style notes. A 1.5% hike, if it were necessary, would barely be noticed by the public.

When business owners pull stupid stunts like this, it has nothing to do with actual concerns over their bottom line. They're just throwing hissy fits because we don't make them feel like princesses by lovingly revering them as "job creators."

Those notes basically translate to "this is what you poors get when you don't let me fuck over my workers, ungrateful peasants!" It's obnoxious, and it just goes to show what entitled, spoiled whiners the business class has become lately.
Posted by Bonefish http://5bmisc.blogspot.com/ on February 8, 2013 at 2:38 PM · Report this
Texas10R 26
The CDC has issued new alerts about the Norovirus and its ease of transmission in food service environments.

http://foodpoisoningbulletin.com/2013/no…

"Norovirus, an uber contagious bug that causes repeated, intense bouts of diarrhea and vomiting, is responsible about half of all food poisoning cases every year. It goes by a variety of names: stomach flu, winter vomiting disease, cruise ship virus and Norwalk. It takes only a few particles of the virus to cause illness and the virus is very successful at setting up shop once it makes its way into the host."
Posted by Texas10R on February 10, 2013 at 1:08 AM · Report this
27
This is a shame, I used to be a pretty frequent customer at Cherry st. Not anymore :)
Posted by adytj1 on February 10, 2013 at 9:20 AM · Report this
kerfuffle 28
The ASSumption that workers will take advantage of paid sick leave is the root cause why coffee shops and retail have such a high turnover rate. When you expect the worst of your employees you are:
A) Hiring the wrong people
B) Hiring the only people who will work for you because you are a galloping dickweed.

I am a fortunate person who has worked where I work for long enough that I accrue 3 weeks of vacation/sick leave per year. I work for such an awesome company that I rarely take those days and end up rolling it over to the next year. I am also lucky that I have a very healthy immune system. I am also a terrible liar and have a conscience, so I don't even try to call in "sick."

When you hire trustworthy people you can *gasp* trust them.
Posted by kerfuffle on February 11, 2013 at 4:36 PM · Report this
29 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
30 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
31
As a former employee of this man, I am not at all surprised by his actions. While I had nothing to worry about, he did seem to think that all of his employees were trying to steal from him.

He used to own a B&O coffee shop in the late Broadway Market (now QFC on Broadway) where he installed cameras to watch his employees. He would also watch us from the upstairs of the mall. I've never been back to his establishments. You probably shouldn't either.
Posted by Taller Wyatt on February 12, 2013 at 12:53 PM · Report this
32
As a former employee of this man, I am not at all surprised by his actions. While I had nothing to worry about, he did seem to think that all of his employees were trying to steal from him.

He used to own a B&O coffee shop in the late Broadway Market (now QFC on Broadway) where he installed cameras to watch his employees. He would also watch us from the upstairs of the mall. I've never been back to his establishments. You probably shouldn't either.
Posted by Taller Wyatt on February 12, 2013 at 12:56 PM · Report this
33
Actually a 1.5% surcharge isn't much to pay to prevent having my coffee contaminated by a sick employee. But that point is moot because I tend to boycott business owners who like to whine and snivel about how government is ruining their ability to do business.
Posted by Mike welch on February 12, 2013 at 8:30 PM · Report this

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