I'll come right out and say it: It wasn't entirely fair of me to characterize last night's minimum wage town hall as one long looping conversation about the wrong stuff. Yes, the overarching themes that emerged were the same old arguments: $15 now, no exemptions, no phase-in (a bold proposal with a lot of support) versus an amorphous "no" coming mostly from business owners who thought they'd suffer or close (as well as a couple restaurant employees who thought their jobs would be first on the chopping block).
But there were lots of important contributions to the debate, and I thought I'd showcase a couple of them in full below. I'm not saying no one's ever said these things, just that they stood out last night in particular.
First up is a restaurant owner who managed to offer her personal experience and opinion—she thinks there should be a consideration for employees' total compensation—while still sounding upbeat about a raise in the minimum wage. She spoke in a way that sounded encouraging, positive, and collaborative, starting with common ground by saying outright that her business supports a wage raise (instead of just spouting generalities about supporting workers). It doesn't mean her position should be automatically adopted, just that she managed to avoid the traps other business owners keep falling into.
Hi, my name is Angela Stowell. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to come out here and dialogue.
My husband and I own nine local Seattle restaurants; they're small, neighborhood restaurants. We employ about 200 people. And I just wanted to first start off by saying, we actually wholeheartedly support a minimum wage increase. But we support it in a way that is smart and thoughtful, and reasonable for both the employees and the employers.
And tonight I want to kind of approach something that hasn't been discussed yet. And I'm not going to sit here and tell you that we're going to go out of business. We'll have to make cuts. The budget— we've run our numbers, and we would be in a negative budget. But we'll figure out how to make that work. I think that a lot of businesses will. But what I think that a lot of businesses won't do is what we also won't be doing, and that's expanding. It's no secret to most of Seattle that we expand on a fairly rapid clip. We've opened a lot of restaurants in a short amount of time. And in that, we've increased our job pool by about 100 people in the last year. And right now, we're on hold. And for us, that means that new jobs are on hold. And I think that that's, for us, something that is really an important part of giving back to the community. And I think that really what we need to see from the council and the commission's recommendation is that a total compensation really be taken into consideration...
We absolutely support people making a minimum wage. But our servers and bartenders actually make over $30 an hour just in tips. So a phasing-in possibly, and certainly a total compensation is going to be the smart and thoughtful way to reach a process that I think everyone in this room agrees needs to happen. So if any of you would like to see our P&Ls [profit and loss statements], I'm happy to give my business card, meet with you, show you what I'm talking about. We're really open about the process.
Next up is Anh Tran, who was down to give a barn-raisin' organizer speech about the intersection of women's rights and the minimum wage debate. While she could be classified as a shouty person in a red T-shirt, she managed to make her contribution an important reminder of the institutional framework behind this debate. When people only talk about the shop down the street—either its employees or its employers—the debate shrinks down to adorableness and personal anecdotes. But this debate is about structural poverty and how to defeat it, and it's good to keep reminding everyone of that. That's not to say that people's personal anecdotes aren't useful, just that they only tell part of the story.
My name is Anh, I'm with 15 Now, and International Women's Day is in three days, so I want to talk about how raising the minimum wage is not just a workers' rights issue, it's a women's rights issue.
The gender pay gap in the US is a silent crisis. We rank 67th out of 133 countries studied by the World Economic Forum for pay equity, even lower than war-torn, underdeveloped countries like Yemen.
Women make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers here. Sixty percent of us are primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners and we have to feed our families on these poverty wages.
The situation is even worse in Seattle, where the gender pay gap is one of the most incongruent for a metropolitan area nationwide. Women in Seattle are paid 73 cents to the dollar that men earn for full-time work, which translates to a total loss for women of $7.9 billion every year. As a result, 23 percent of Seattle households where women are primary breadwinners fall below the poverty line.
Raising the minimum wage would be a significant step towards pay equality in Seattle. It would translate to women earning enough annual income to buy 16 more months of rent, or 8 more months worth of mortgage and utilities, or 2.3 more years worth of food.
City councillors, you have the majority of Seattle people behind you to pass $15 for all workers, without exceptions. This means no tip penalties, because women are 70 percent of restaurant servers, and their poverty rate in this industry is three times higher than men. And this means no phasing in, because at the rate of current efforts to close the pay gap, it would be year 2056 before women earned as much as men. It is absurd to think women can afford to wait another 42 years for pay equity.
City councillors, will you take courage and stand up against big business interests and for the interests of working women everywhere? Because what we do in Seattle will set the terms for a national minimum wage increase, which would significantly shrink the gender disparity and raise 13.1 million people out of poverty.