A new bill in the Washington State Senate that specifically targets salons has hairdressers and stylists panicking.
"Everybody wants to thoroughly understand what the bill is," Susie Powers, a stylist based in Fremont with 30 years in the industry told The Stranger. "So many hairdressers are terrified that it is what it is, that they’re really going to pass something that will ruin our independent livelihood."
The bill, SB 5326, would seemingly make it illegal for salons to lease out booth spaces to independent stylists. The reasoning behind it is opaque, it could be well-intentioned but misguided progressivism. The bill states that this business model—renting out booth spaces to independent stylists—"denies individuals eligibility for unemployment insurance and industrial insurance, and gives businesses that use booth renters an unfair competitive advantage."
"They’re trying to say that the owners of booth rental salons are somehow taking advantage of us," Justin Dahlquist, a hairdresser in Ballard, told The Stranger. "That’s just not accurate. The vast majority of booth renting stylists have been doing it for years and we can work wherever we want. There's more freedom and more agency."
There are two main ways a stylist can work: as an employee at a commission-based salon where, according to Powers, commission is capped at 45 percent, or to rent a booth out at a salon, pay rent every month, and essentially run your own business. The bill, which is sponsored by Democrat heavy-hitters like Senator Karen Keiser, Senator Patty Kuderer, and Senator Rebecca Saldaña, would take the latter option away. None of them responded to The Stranger's request for comment. We will update this post if they do.
Big salons are threatened, according to Powers.
"People are leaving salons to start their own businesses," Powers explained. "People can lease their own space, we all booth rent. We all pay for our chair. We run our own business essentially behind our own chair. When you are leaving a huge commission-based salon, you are most likely taking your clientele with you."
Powers said that her business doubled when she left the commission-based salon she worked at and started working independently.
Strangely, this bill is pointedly directed at stylists. There is a section that is dedicated to specifically omitting barbers from the legislation. Since the hair styling industry is predominately female, Powers thinks this legislation is sexist.
"[Most of] the hairdressers in our industry are women," Powers said. "We want the opportunity to be there for our families so we can create our own business model and our schedule."
Lauren George, a salon owner in Ballard who rents out space to stylists, told The Stranger: "Not all barbers are male and not all hair stylists are female, but traditionally one does have a higher amount than the other and there are more women hair stylists."
According to George, Scott Missad, the President and CEO of Gene Juarez, is among the business owners pushing for the bill. But that is false. Missad told The Stranger that he has never spoken to Senator Keiser, that he only spoke to her aid.
"She said the senator was going to be introducing a bill and what would be my position on that," Missad said. "My position on that remains the same: that myself and this company agrees that everybody in the industry should be held to the same standard."
"It could have to do with the fact that the big salons that are supporting this are salons and not barber shops and there are more cosmetology licenses than there are barber licenses," George said.
Missad said he has never and will never be against booth rentals, but that he is all for tax fairness. He believes that these independent contractors should have to pay the same taxes and that it creates an "uneven playing field."
But that still could hinder livelihoods. A lot of small businesses like George's rely on booth-rentals to survive. George said that she couldn't afford to have employees and, even if she could, the stylists who rent space from her aren't interested in being employees.
"I'm having a hard time understanding," George said. "I know that Washington is a Democratic state and it’s majority Democrat in the Legislature. I feel like I’ve been totally blindsided by the fact that I’ve been so supportive of this party and to find out that they’re not trying to support middle-class entrepreneurs… It’s just backwards."
Currently, there's a Change.org petition that hair stylists are circulating around the internet. There will be public comment for SB 5326 on Monday that many people, including Powers, are planning on showing up for. They were hopeful that they could nip this bill in the bud, but just yesterday, two more bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, were pushed through that could be implemented if 5326 doesn't pass. Those bills target independent contractors as a whole.
"For me, as much as I was very hopeful with 5326, with yesterday's bills coming out now I'm a little bit more nervous," Powers said. "That’s a huge chunk of the American dream being taken. All of us are going to have to work for a larger corporation instead of our own opportunity."
A spokesperson from Keiser's office, the sponsor of the bill, only told The Stranger this vague statement: "There are some changes in the works now."
According to KING5, the only media outlet able to track Keiser down, Keiser "removed section 2 of Senate Bill 5326 on Wednesday after her office received a lot of feedback on the measure, according to a spokesperson."
Still, from KING:
Keiser filed the bill after receiving a complaint from a salon owner in Spokane who does not rent space that they are saddled with additional costs, like property taxes, that booth renters are not.
“It is an unlevel playing field,” Keiser said.
The Stranger has reached out to that Spokane salon owner. She is allegedly on vacation. According to stylists we talked to, that owner has been sending email propaganda to fellow salon owners and legislators. The emails contain very similar language to what's seen in the bill.
"Keiser says this bill is part of a bigger conversation they're having about what she says is constant confusion in any industry about what qualifies as an independent contractor," KING5 states.
Keiser just announced in a press release that she is "going back to the drawing board" where SB 5326 is concerned. Currently, she has altered two things about the bill: The section banning booth rentals will be removed and the scope of the bill will be broadened to apply to barbers, according to the release.
“The new bill will retain the state’s 'level playing field' tax approach so that salons with employees and booth renters are subject to the same taxes," Keiser said. "This process is an example of how democracy works best."
There will be public comment in Olympia at 10 a.m. Monday before the Senate Committee on Labor & Commerce.
A previous version of this story suggested that Scott Missad, and Gene Juarez, were pushing for this bill. That is inaccurate. A correction has been made.