Last Night's Minimum Wage Town Hall: Where Do We Go from Here?


You are amazing. Thank you for this post.
Sorry to beat this dead horse, but Tamara Murphy calling her employees "family" makes me puke blood. I was part of Tamara's "family" at Elliott Bay Cafe. She and Peter Aaron fired their whole "family" with 12 hours notice after telling us this would not happen for a month. They refused to make eye contact with us while giving us our last checks and blatantly lied when confronted about the issue. I am LOVING seeing local heroes such as Murph squirm when they're actually confronted about their dubious business practices...
We have to be careful about creating a loophole for small business. Since most national chain restaurants are franchises, the legal entity operating the McDonalds or Subway is legally a small business. A local one as well. Trying to write a law that differentiates between corporations that are franchisees and true stand alone businesses will be the weakness that is exploited in a sure to come legal challenge. In this era of corporate personhood they will win. Don't be a sucker on this one.
Beautifully done, Anna. There is a workable compromise here, one that like all good compromises leaves everyone unhappy. And especially thanks for the explicitly stating that small business owners are not crazy, nor the enemy. It's a point that needs to be repeated.
I would caution against painting franchises as mere extensions of corporations. While I think fast-food prices are too low and bemoan the homogenization of American culture that national chains have wrought (while, to be fair, patronizing them when pressed for time and in unfamiliar territory), franchise owners can have enormous start-up costs (including inflated prices for corporate-branded equipment) as well as ongoing levies of around 12-16% for royalties and marketing. In most cases they ARE legitimate small businesses with extra hidden costs.…

Some communities have successfully moved to keep chains out, often in revitalizing downtown corridors.
For those of you who might be wondering, that's called journalism.
In following the MW debate, it does seem reasonable that some sort of phase-in would be preferable for small businesses, non-profits and like; yet I've been having difficulty with a logic problem as it relates to it. So if the MW is raised to $15/hr immediately for big businesses and there are phase-in exemptions for small business and others, and say John Doe needs to get a job and loves books. There are 2 bookstores in his neighborhood, one pays the minimum wage of $15, the other pays less than minimum wage of say $10,$11,or $12/hr... why would John work for less money? Wouldn't a wage discrepancy further increase the advantage that big business has in attracting good workers? If the phase-in takes place, for a number of years, the exempted small business and such would be paying less than minimum market value for labor, which it seems would diminish the quality of their labor pool (which presumably would cause more turnovers, more training, etc - adding to the bottom line). From the point of view of a worker, it would further de-incentivize working for a small business or a non-profit if wages offered were below the minimum in other places. This isn't meant to be rhetorical, but I've been perplexed by how a phase-in could be successful, since it seems reasonable, but dissonant.
Here we go gang: the compromise with dozens of loop holes and a phase in period of a few years. Just enough to make meaningful progressive change completely toothless.
Low-wage earners may think victory is within their grasp with this $15/hour movement, but they will not be as happy as they think when their employers cut hours, cut benefits, or replace them with either a much more qualified employee worth that amount or a kiosk/iPad.
Not that I am very interested in this stuff, but having a photo of a couple of dorks doesn't invite me to read the article.
@7, ask Paul Constant about the delights of working for a large chain bookstore. For someone who loves books, taking less money to work for a good indie could well be a choice happily made. But moreover, your scenario suggests that the choice is always there; it's not. There are ever-fewer jobs the higher up the compensation scale you go. That's why most of us work for less than we would like to be paid.…
they'd have to raise prices to accommodate a dramatic wage hike—so what?

Oh. Please. SLOG is a litany of complaint about how expensive shit is Seattle.

Didn't you guys just wine about $7.00 juice (from a place that actually pays is employees pretty well) and how over-priced the tina sandwiches were at Elliott Bay Cafe? Or was that all bullshit?

Not one small business I know is against raising the minimum wage. Not one.

All they want is some consideration and time to figure it out. And yes some small businesses will have to have some type of exemptions.

Look, small cafes and the like are competing with Starbucks and Subways and are still paying the same astronomical rents that are pittance to Subway, Starbucks and McDonalds and other chains. Of course they rely on low labor costs - but they also have tips, etc.

You want thriving small local businesses, the ones that build community and character to our neighborhoods? Then stop lumping them together with McDonalds and others and treating them like the enemy, okay. It's fucking insulting as hell.

The strident fanatics who don't want to compromise with small businesses are also ironic Free Market proponents in that they glibly proclaim that these small businesses should just fail if they can't handle the wage hikes. How is that any different from say workers should just get another job if they can't live on poverty wages? It's not. Both arguments are strident, absolutist, and devoid of compassion. Which is agains the point of intervening in the mighty marketplace and raising the wage in the first place.
A phase in is one thing; loopholes and exemptions are fucking bullshit, and will be overturned in court.


The really big chains require you to show a net worth of several million dollars before they'll let you open a franchise. Let's not weep over them, okay?
No compromise.

No loopholes.

No exemptions.

Otherwise you let things happen like Apple paying 0.4% (1/100th the official tax rate) in Australia & the US and claiming "poverty".
Yes, there should be a steep phase-in (so, over a couple years, not drawn out a decade). How about instead of focusing on small versus big businesses, we incentivize employers to provide minimum benefits. Perhaps: Any company that provides health care (equal to, perhaps, the Silver Plan standards of ACA) and a minimum level of paid vacation (continually accrued, payable upon termination), and small "make-ends-meet" severance package for no-cause terminations can pay a minimum wage of, say, $12. Any worker will agree that making $12/hr while having insurance, vacation, and the knowledge that they'll have a month or two to react to a surprise layoff is much better than $15/hr with none of those.
@15 (myself)...also: companies that are currently taking care of their employees with full benefits are the ones we really don't want to hurt with a sudden wage hike. If we hike minimum wage to a blanket $15/hr, we are actually providing incentive for companies to STOP providing benefits and use the savings to meet the $15/hr. Perhaps a simpler way to legislate this is to say if an employer is spending over $20/hr on the sum of an employee's wages plus approved benefits, the wages can be as low as $12. (I'm making up those numbers for illustration only).
Here we go gang: the compromise with dozens of loop holes and a phase in period of a few years. Just enough to make meaningful progressive change completely toothless.

As long as the loop holes all expire within, say, three years from the date of enactment, leaving a pure flat $15/hour rate with no loop holes or exemptions, full stop, I don't think many progressives will have a problem with that.
You say:

"Somewhere in there are the details, and the folks who say "Yes! We want to pay people fair wages! Here's how we think we can do it" are about to win this conversation in a meaningful and honest way.

We just aren't hearing much from them yet."

My question: Why isn't that person Sawant?

She wants people to make $15/hr and so do most of us. Most of us also realize that things like tips, commissions, healthcare, etc. can be part of that $15. We also realize that businesses need time to adjust their business models and prices and that their customer will also need time to absorb those potential price hikes.

Why can't Sawant be the person who leads this reasonable approach? Why does it have to be a fight with the business community or the Murray team?
so what do we do when inflation catches up (because this is literally how inflation happens) and in five years we have the same debate because $15 buys the same thing as $10 today?

wouldn't it be a better use of this political capital to find ways to get people the job skills they need to get a better job instead of purposefully keeping them at the poverty line? because no matter high how you make it, minimum wage will ALWAYS be right at the poverty line. this just raises said line.

think it ALL the way through.
and @6 - no, it's not. this is PR. this is advocacy work. this is NOT journalism. never mistake what the stranger does for actual journalism. they do good, important work in a lot of ways, but THIS sure as shit isn't journalism any more than what Fox does is journalism.
@19: it decreases the enormous gap between the lowest paid workers and the highest-paid. Right now that gap is way too big. Increasing the minimum wage puts a higher share of the economy into the pockets of the laborers (this share has been falling dramatically), and inflation doesn't change that.
"A representative of Dick's said they'd have to raise prices to accommodate a dramatic wage hike—so what? The people around them testified about not being able to afford food ..."

No loopholes, no exemptions. Phase in? 1 year, tops.

If you are a business owner, the time to start planning to pay your employees a living wage is NOW.

The Stranger is carrying some really dirty water here.
"We just aren't hearing much from them yet."

Perhaps you're just not listening. Anyone who talks about a phased approach -- including a number of small-business owners -- gets mocked and/or shouted down by the likes of Sawant, @8, @14 and @22 among many others.

I would love to see a "here's how we can make it happen" plan from local business leaders, and perhaps they could take some time away from prophesying doom and gloom to get together and hammer something out.

That said...

I don't disagree with the idea that our local political leaders should take the lead in figuring out how this can be effectively and fairly done for everyone, in terms of working with both sides to put forth a specific policy proposal. We're paying them to craft policy, not play activist or sit on the sidelines and watch.
@2 Parker: You're right. I never worked for a cafe/coffee shop in Seattle but I have in other towns/cities. When in the hell did we decide that "small business owners" were these fucking sacred cows above any reproach?

Some of the meanest people I've ever dealt with were small business owners. At least evil corporate monopolies like Starbucks or Mallwort are conscious of or afraid of public opinion and so at least make half-ass efforts to accommodate their employees some of the time.

A $15/hr minimum wage would force ALL companies, monolithic and mom-n-pops, to treat their employees as they are: a valuable asset, not a fucking liability that has to be constantly threatened, trimmed and made redundant.
@22 'cliche' or should I say Clueless?…

Every asshole and their dog is a "small business owner" in this country, and many of them not doing freelancing or operating a retail establishment are running their own "business" because they're marginally employable in the real world. Think "Joe the Plumber".
@25 you're right, it should ABSOLUTELY be the politicians taking the lead on this debate, that is why we elected them. If we want this to work, it has to be a discussion. Instead it feels more like divorce court where the "Sawant camp" offers a settlement proposal then asks for a rebuttal from the "business owners" camp. Sawant should take the lead and try to craft a solution with the business owners.

@30 Lol u talmbout "that's why we elected them" then you talmbout "craft a solution with the business owners" so politics is this process by which the people, aggregated, select a person to ask for things from business owners

that's sad, dude
I hope that people realize that by following a "phase in" approach to raising the minimum wage, by the time we reach $15/hr inflation will probably have negated the increase.
And once everyone is earning more... every landlord in town will be hiking up the rent yet again. We're just chasing our tails unless the City comes up with more tenant protections. Then again, who will live here when rent is so high and the average line cook can't afford to stay, leaving all those fancy new corporate chains unmanned below all the fancy new condos that are taking over?
if a business cannot pay a living wage its not a viable business. close it.
as a business owner for 25 years i knew my responsibility from day one. anything below a lving wage is simply exploitation. no one needs time to "figure it out".