UPDATE: A handful of members of a new business coalition seeking to inject their concerns in Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage debate gathered publicly for the first time on Capitol Hill Thursday.
The organization, called OneSeattle Coalition, held a press conference at the 10th and Pine Century Ballroom before members of the press (and more than one member of the $15 Now campaign) to launch its campaign and, apparently, put a few faces of local business people in front of the cameras.
Linda Di Lello Morton, co-owner of Terra Plata and Elliot Bay Cafe, said she joined OneSeattle because of their commitment to a “sustainable approach” to raising the minimum wage. The group has not released a specific proposal, but Morton said tips and other benefits must be included in a $15 an hour minimum wage hike. She said if the minimum wage were raised and excluded a so-called total compensation calculation, Terra Plata’s costs would go up about $300,000 a year, forcing the restaurant to close for lunch and all day on Mondays and Tuesdays.
“It’s a deal breaker, it puts us at the breaking point, not the tipping point,” she said.
Also in attendance were representatives from the LGBT-focused Greater Seattle Business Association, Island Soul restaurant, The Arc of King County, and an owner of a local shipping company. The press conference followed the launch of oneseattlecoalition.org earlier in the day, which included several Capitol Hill food+drink businesses.
Original report: The trickle of individual Seattle business owners carefully opposing an immediate $15 an hour wage hike — and bracing for the backlash — appears to have reached a critical mass as a newly formed business coalition prepares to enter the wage debate with a launch from Capitol Hill.
Earlier in the week, a group called OneSeattle Coalition — representing “small businesses, non-profits, manufacturers and restaurants” — blipped on the radar via social media channels, simply tweeting “this is going to be big.” A OneSeattle rep told CHS the group will reveal its membership and some of its goals at a press conference on Capitol Hill Thursday. Unlike the other recently launched business group Forward Seattle, OneSeattle has not yet released a plan for increasing the minimum wage. The group is coalescing around four key principles that are at odds with the vocal, worker-focused $15 Now campaign:
1. An increase to minimum compensation must be phased in.
2. Minimum compensation must take into account all reportable income and include a credit for benefits such as health care.
3. A temporary training wage is essential to preserve opportunities for new entrants to the workforce.
4. A good policy is good for everyone, no exceptions.
Alex Fryer, director of public affairs at The Feary Group, is heading up PR for OneSeattle. He told CHS that the group’s membership is still fluid and more specific policy proposals have yet to take shape.
There are early indications that OneSeattle will unite some independent Capitol Hill business owners with some larger political players, like the Washington Restaurant Association and Seattle Restaurant Alliance. Groups like the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce are also involved — a chamber vice president is listed as the contact for a not-yet-live web site for the group.
Fryer said the group’s mid-game appearance to oppose the $15 Now camp was due to a natural inclination among business owners to avoid public policy debates. “Generally speaking, politics is bad for business. You want to appeal to a customer on your product,” he said.
“OneSeattle Coalition’s mission is to positively engage the debate over minimum compensation to ensure that the most vulnerable workers get a raise while other employees maintain the ability to make a middle-class income,” a draft of its “About Us” statement read. “We want to ensure businesses, nonprofits, restaurants and manufacturers work in partnership with elected officials and others to create a better Seattle.”
“Our core principle is simple: there should be no exceptions,” it concludes. “What’s good policy for one sector of the economy should be good for all the others.”
You can read more on the group’s Facebook page.
UPDATE: The group’s site has gone live — here’s a launch-day membership roster:
Amber Restaurant & Lounge
Arc of King County
Ballard Chamber of Commerce
Belle Epicurean LLC
Big Mario’s Pizza
Cascade Designs Inc.
Creative Retail Packaging
Ethan Stowell Restaurants
Family Resource Home
FPO Inc. – Mel’s Market
Korean American Hotel Association
Korean Chamber of Commerce
Lost Lake Café
Maria Hines Restaurants
Mckenzie Chase Management
Mr. Villa & El Norte
North Seattle Industrial Association
Nucor Steel Seattle
Peterson Sullivan, CPAs
Pho Cyclo Café
Right at Home
Seattle Historic Waterfront Association
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce
Seattle Restaurant Alliance
Sip Restaurant & Melting Pots
Terra Plata LLC
The 5 Point
The Comet Tavern
The Yarrow Group LLC – Evergreen Salad
Wallingford Chamber of Commerce
Washington Health Care Association
Washington Multi Family Housing Association
Woodland Park Zoo
While Fryer said OneSeattle’s core membership only started meeting in recent weeks, many Seattle business owners have been meeting informally for months. The closed door meetings have led to speculation and some leaky emails about the business crowd’s minimum wage strategies, including a tip that a band of restaurant workers are planning a march on Cal Anderson Park. Fryer denies any knowledge of the demonstration which apparently is being pondered by another Capitol Hill-related group entering the political fray over raising Seattle’s minimum wage.
The minimum wage debate is heating up as the task force convened by Mayor Ed Murray prepares to deliver its recommendations by the end of the month. Whatever is included in the Income Inequality Task Force report will likely re-shape the debate.
Some OneSeattle members were likely inside Seattle City Council chambers Wednesday afternoon when the council’s minimum wage committee invited four restauranteurs to discuss how a wage increase would affect tipped employees. Owners of Pho Cyclo Cafe, Pagliacci Pizza, Anchovies & Olives, and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels were all in agreement that an immediate wage hike to $15 an hour was untenable.
The panelists presented slides to break down the numbers on current wages and what a $15 an hour minimum wage would mean for their books. You can view the presentation slides here:
Auntie Anne’s franchisee Bret Stewart, who is opening his first Seattle location this year, said he often employs teenagers for their first jobs, teaching them how to work a register and fold pretzels. “I’m not sure that’s a $30,000 a year job,” he said to raucous applause inside the chamber.
Pho Cyclo owner Taylor Hoang told council members that her 60-year-old mother’s small International District restaurant was hanging by a thread and she would have to reduce staff if forced to raise wages to $15 an hour. Hoang, who said she was representing immigrant and minority business owners, said her mother’s Huong Binh restaurant was also the main source of income for a large family back in Vietnam.
As for Pho Cyclo, Hoang said the company hires many immigrant workers who cannot read or write in English, making them otherwise unemployable.
“You ask why if we’re not profitable we keep going. We keep going in the hopes that tomorrow will be a better day,” she said, earning her a standing ovation.
CHS talked with Hoang about her near-decade on Broadway here last summer.
Council member Kshama Sawant received some unfamiliar jeers from the public when she challenged business owners on their opposition to raising worker wages. After Pagliacci owner Matt Galvin said he had a high turnover among some workers, Sawant asked “is your turnover very high because your workers don’t make that much?”
According to Angela Stowell, of Ethan Stowell Restaurants behind Capitol Hill’s Anchovies & Olives, Rione XIII and Bar Cotto, the average bill at one of her restaurants is around $94. With a $15 an hour wage increase, she estimated average bills would go up to $117 to accommodate, a 24.5% jump.
Meanwhile, a study commissioned by the mayor’s office says that more than a third of Capitol Hill, Central District and southeast Seattle workers make less than $15 an hour.
Tom Douglas, whose namesake restaurant company will make its Capitol Hill debut this year, jumped into the minimum wage debate last week with this letter on his blog. He called $15 an hour a hollow slogan and said “the $15 Now movement was born in the fast food industry model and not tipped dining.”
The big business ties in OneSeattle have apparently turned off some Capitol Hill independents. Earlier this month CHS reported on Forward Seattle, a largely anonymous group that put out the first business-side counter proposal to $15 Now and seems to be more affiliated with local independents.
Dr. Jen’s House of Beauty is one of the few Capitol Hill small businesses that has openly joined Forward Seattle. Echoing other business owners, Jennifer Dietrich told CHS she thought $15 an hour was too arbitrary, particularly for unskilled labor.
“I decided to put my name out there with Forward Seattle because the members support a more reasonable way to raise the minimum wage without gutting small business,” she said.
The Forward Seattle plan proposes an $11 an hour minimum wage for small businesses in 2015 with adjustments made annually through 2017. “Total compensation” — tips, bonuses, commissions, and profit sharing — would all get counted towards a minimum wage under the plan, and the state minimum wage would be retained for all tipped and commission workers.