Dave Meinert owns several Seattle bars and restaurants. An editorial he's writing specifically about total compensation will appear next week in The Stranger, as part of a series of minimum wage op-eds from activists, business owners, low-wage workers, and other experts. If you have an editorial you'd like to submit, send it here.
I've been very involved in hearing all sides of how to enact a $15 minimum wage in Seattle. I'm a restaurant owner and I'm on the mayor's minimum wage committee. There are some common themes I keep hearing.
1. The proponents of $15 have always said they are targeting large business like Target, not small local businesses. Target does $72 billion in sales annually. McDonald's does $28 billion. Burger King, $1.15 billion. For comparison, one of the most successful Seattle restaurant companies, Tom Douglass Restaurants, which owns and operates 15 different restaurants, did a total of $46 million in sales last year.
2. There is much debate about complex details—phasing-in, exemptions, total compensation, etc. Many people on the mayor's minimum wage committee state that these are too complex and we should have a simpler policy.
3. Most low-wage workers work for large businesses, businesses with sales over $1 billion per year.
4. Labor is literally freaking out about including tips in total compensation, but this is crucial for small business and we're possibly at an impasse.
So in an effort to keep it simple, focus on who we're targeting instead of who we exempt, take tips and total compensation off the table, and get to $15 as soon as possible without phasing, here's my idea: Go to $15 minimum wage next year only for businesses with annual gross revenue over $1 billion.
The majority of people making under $15 would immediately go to $15. And most importantly—the employers not required to pay $15 would have to find a way to keep employees. They would have to raise wages, but also might increase benefits, be a better company, or offer more satisfying work. Small businesses would have to find a way to compete in the labor market with big businesses, but they could be flexible in how they do it.
This might sound a little crazy or radical—but this is exactly the ordinance the Washington DC's city council passed last year that their mayor vetoed. It was called the Large Retailer Accountability Act. It was written by and backed by labor—UFCW and SEIU—and the living wage movement. It only increased the wage to $12.50, so the real radical idea here is that we’d be going to $15. We've seen that we can set different wages for small and large businesses in SeaTac. So it's legal. It would also allow us to end the debate now, as I think most small businesses would support this.