A group of Capitol Hill merchants has spoken in unison about the potential for a $15 minimum wage in Seattle — Mayor Murray, don’t do it.
The Broadway Business Owners Association has sent a letter telling Ed Murray they oppose his support of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle.
The group says its letter’s signee roster including the owners of Julia’s, Panache Clothing, Olivar and others “unanimously opposes a $15 minimum wage increase” and “respectfully requests the city to consider exemption of small businesses.” The full statement and list of participating merchants is below. UPDATE 1/17/14 6:53 AM: One listed owner, Sujan Sharma, of Annapurna Cafe, said he did not authorize his business to be listed following the meeting with the group he attended recently. We are contacting the other businesses listed to confirm their participation in the meeting. UPDATE 1/17/14 1:25 PM: Panache’s Carl Madeiros also says he did not authorize meeting organizer Charlette LeFevre to include his business in the roster. He says he sees the issue two ways:
Yes, … I agree with the minimum wage increase if this will help people in our state.
No, …..if this will only increase unemployment and create less jobs
The letter was sent to local media and public officials from the group’s official notification email address that has been used for distributing information about events including the Broadway Pride Festival.
UPDATE 1/17/14 2:10 PM: Julia’s Karsten Betd says he also didn’t approve the letter and offered up his thoughts on the issue as a Broadway business owner:
As some other business owners mentioned this letter was [sent] without our approval on the content of the letter, and Julia’s owners don’t agree with all of its content.
I/we strongly agree with the current min wage law in Wa state, which increases yearly by the consumer price index.
All our employees at Julia’s get paid more already, the floor staff earns an average of $15-25 an hour in addition to the current min wage.
Our kitchen staff gets paid higher wages than the current min wage depending on their skill level as well.
If a mandatory $15 an hour wage would kick in we would have to raise prices accordingly, most likely cut our work force, and trim hours of operation, making it even more difficult to be profitable, maybe even close our business.
Wages should go up gradually each year and not jump up by over 60%, it doesn’t make any sense it would create much higher cost of living expense in Seattle, and not benefitting the min wage employee at all. It would be dangerous gamble if all of a sudden we increase gas by 60% or food etc We just don’t know what would happen to our economy if that would happen.
Of course Olympia and cities would see a big hike in sales tax collected.
Instead we should focus on better schools and colleges and better education, leading to a more qualified and higher paid workforce. And leave the entry level jobs with the min wage for young people, students, part timers etc.
The letter puts the group in opposition with supporters of new Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant who has called for a move to an unconditional $15 minimum wage in the city. The push and others like it could be troublesome for Murray who has tried to strike a supportive tone about a higher minimum wage. CHS reported on Murray’s efforts to move the city’s minimum wage higher and the challenges and opportunities in his first term here.
The letter is also a risky move for the signing business owners as the issue has received mostly popular support in the neighborhood and beyond. Others have shown more progressive tact. Late in 2012, CHS reported on questions and suggestions from some of the leaders of the Hill’s food and drink economy about raising the minimum wage to heights more appropriate to supporting a good life in Seattle.
The BBOA is a grassroots business group formed in recent years out of frustration with the larger Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the challenges of operating on a construction-choked Broadway.
Chamber director Michael Wells is a member of Murray’s minimum wage advisory group and the Broadway Business Improvement Area that the Chamber administrates is preparing for expansion. Full disclosure: The Capitol Hill Chamber is a CHS advertiser.
Here is the full statement from the BBOA group. You can learn more about the group on the BBOA Facebook page.
Dear Mayor Murray and Committee,
BBOA, the Broadway Business Owners Association on Capitol Hill, an association that represents one of Seattle’s largest corridor of small businesses unanimously opposes a $15 minimum wage increase and respectfully requests the city to consider exemption of small businesses.
Wheras a 60% increase in employee wages would create an extreme hardship and in some cases closure of small business owners and family operated businesses whos profit margin if barely is in the 2-5% margin range and is already strained due to operation size and the economy.
Whereas small business owners assert the right to regulate their own employees raises based on merit in conjunction with the present minimum wage.
Whereas BBOA business owner assert there is already an existing fair minimum wage and stand by the 1998 voter approved initiative that already ties the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index which measures inflation.
Karsten Betd and Eladio Preciado, Owner Julias Restaurant
Carl Medeiros, Owner Panache Clothing
Angel Theurer, Owner Metro Clothing
Philippe Thomelin, Owner and Chef Olivar Restaurant
Sujan Sharma, Owner Annapurna Cafe (CHS Note: Sharma has contacted CHS and said he did not authorize his inclusion in this letter)
Faustino Lopez, General Manager Perfect Copy and Print
Charlette LeFevre and Philip Lipson, Directors Northwest Museum of Legends and Lore
Niz Marar, Owner Wild West Trading Co., 4 retail stores – Red Light Vintage and Aprie Women’s Clothing.
Nikki Page, Owner Scream Salon
Jim Brown, Owner The UPS Store
Jeffrey Wilson , Owner and Chef Americana
Steven Lien , Owner underU4men
Rion Haber, General Manager Q Nightclub
Additional business comments:
“If the $15 minimum wage is enacted, we would go out of business immediately and all our 25 permanent staff (up to 50 seasonally) will be out of a job. It’s that simple.”
Niz Marar, owner Wild West Trading Co., 4 retail stores – Red Light Vintage and Aprie Women’s Clothing.
“Scream has been in business since 1998, I have been employed at Scream Salon for almost a decade and owner for almost two years. With that said I can’t fathom an hourly increase this high! It would wreck us and I have to say it would wreck many of my small business neighbors! It’s a nice thought that one day we could have a better min.wage… but we also need to cap off what is being charged for housing in our area. These two things are going hand in hand on the hill. I’m very nervous about this whole thing!! – Nikki Page of Scream Salon
My competitors are web-based retailers based outside to the city of Seattle. A change to $15 per hours is a competitive disadvantage that cannot be overcome. I do not have the ability to raise prices to cover this type of increase. – Steven Lien, underU4men | Capitol Hill
UPDATE 1/17/14 9:30 AM: We asked Faustino Lopez about why he decided to include his business in the association’s letter. Here is what the copy shop owner told CHS:
A minimum wage increase in not what we oppose, what we oppose is a $15.00 an hour increase it is illogical.
People also need to realize the employer is not just paying the $15.00 they are also paying taxes, insurance and matching social security, so a $15.00 employee is realistically $18-20 per hour.
I am not worried we have always paid our employes well and above the minimum wage which is warranted with the education and knowledge in the field. I leave you with an article that sums up this unrealistic, uneducated approach to economics.
We’ve been told some of the participating businesses are beginning to see backlash in online review sites like Yelp though we’ve also been told of a few examples of support for the businesses listed in the letter.
CHS has attempted to contact all businesses listed in the letter but if we didn’t reach you and you’d like to tell us more about the situation, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/txt (206) 399-5959.
UPDATE: Under U 4 Men’s Steve Lien sent us a lengthy response to our questions about the letter:
Here’s another response from Q nightclub’s Rion Haber:
While we recognize that living wage issues are a very important aspect of the larger conversation on how to improve standard of living for all Seattle residents, creating an overnight rise of roughly 40% in labor expenses is like trying to kill a mosquito with a hand grenade. You are likely not going to hit the mosquito and you are going to create a lot of collateral damage in the mean time.
The most difficult part to swallow about all of this is that the people it’s most adversely going to affect are the ones the raise actually applies to; low income earners who live paycheck to paycheck and tend to purchase from other discount based businesses, which will now have to raise their prices to accommodate for their drastically increased labor expenses.
In terms of a potential reduction in business, I am much more afraid of the lost business that will occur from the venue having to raise it’s prices to compensate for these changes than the business taking a stand against a popularly unsound fiscal initiative. While everyone agrees that we want Seattle to be a livable city with lots of diversity, perhaps we should encourage small businesses to be a part of that larger quality of life conversation rather than a victim of it.