We got a call yesterday from a PR guy announcing the social-media rollout of a new coalition lobbying City Hall on an $15-an-hour minimum wage proposal (a proposal that is still amorphous). Called OneSeattle, the group has a snazzy Facebook page and is interested in "how can we best raise people up to $15 while recognizing each individual industry has a different model for getting there," said Alex Fryer. Translation: OneSeattle is the business-run counterpoint to the worker-oriented group 15 Now, which wants a robust $15 wage law.
But who is in this new business group? Besides saying its members included "restaurant, manufacturing, and retail sectors," Fryer was mum. He's still getting a "complete picture" of who is involved. "When we have an announcement later this week, we will tell you who those members are."
But an e-mail leaked to The Stranger today sheds light on many of the members: big businesses and their associations. The letter, which outlines efforts to involve small businesses and workers as part of their public persona, is written by a person who attended the group's big kickoff summit today but could not be named for this post. The meeting of 70 to 100 people was led by Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce CEO Maud Daudon (the chamber's leading membership includes Starbucks, Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, etc). In conjunction with the chamber, the group's biggest driver is the Washington Restaurant Association, which is an affiliate of the right-leaning National Restaurant Association that represents the McDonald's Corporation, Burger King Corporation, Yum! Brands Food, 7-11 and most other food giants in the US.
As many have noted, many of those visibly fighting $15-an-hour wages have been owners of small business, even though larger businesses are behind most low wages. A two-thirds majority of low-wage workers in the US work for larger companies, and many of the nation's largest corporations are those that pay workers the least. In Seattle, an estimated 24 percent of Seattle workers (102,000 workers citywide) would benefit from raising the wage to $15 and hour.
OneSeattle's other members: In attendance today, the letter says, were representatives of the Northwest Grocery Association (Safeway, QFC, and Fred Meyer, etc.), Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle, Washington Health Care Association (representing over 400 facilities), Eli Lilly and Company pharmaceuticals, the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound, Washington Athletic Club, Nucor Steel, and on and on. Also present were representatives of several small business including Terra Plata, Zeek's Pizza, Lam's Market, Skillet, and Ethan Stowell Restaurants.
Their goal: Almost everyone raised their hands when asked if they support a policy that would raise the wage to $15 for workers on two conditions: the law is phased in over a period of several years and that it's based on a "total compensation" model. In this formula, an employee's benefits, such as health care and retirement, would be deducted from the $15 wage. Tips would also be deducted from the wage, so an employee who makes more than $5.68 an hour in tips (the difference between the current minimum wage and $15) would still receive $9.32 from their employer as they do now. Daudon was clear that the group wanted both provisions, not just phase in or total-compensation rule. (15 Now supports a phase-in rule but not a total compensation.)
Their strategy: Bob Donegan, CEO of Ivar's restaurant chain, reportedly acknowledged that about 70 percent of Seattle voters support a $15 minimum wage without exceptions, but said, according to recent market research, that the public could be swayed by the appearance of a coalition of businesses, large and small. In that vein, the group discussed outreach to businesses owned by people of color, including Chinese and hispanic chambers of commerce.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable things discussed was a strategy to involve tipped workers themselves, the e-mail says. One bar owner reportedly said 20 bars and restaurants had a meeting with tipped employees to, according to the memo, spread the idea that 15 Now wants to get rid of tips entirely. They told the employees that if a $15 minimum wage is passed without a tip credit, employees will no longer get tips at all. They are reportedly meeting tonight at a Belltown restaurant to plan a march from Cal Anderson Park to City Hall next Tuesday to call for a tip penalty in their own wages.
Donegan reportedly talked about a plan for an initiative that would be ready at the end of the month—which could run head-to-head on the fall ballot against a 15 Now initiative. Some members of the group have sent daily delegation meetings to meet with the mayor and city council, the memo says, which are being organized by Josh McDonald from the Washington Restaurant Association.
The upshot: The people behind OneSeattle are big business, while the people we're seeing in public and on the ground—literally planning to march in the streets—are workers from small, local businesses.