Capitol Hill businesses join forces big and small in minimum wage debate — UPDATE

Linda Di Lello Morton, co-owner of Terra Plata and Elliot Bay Cafe, speaking with other small business owners on $15 an hour (Photo: CHS)

Linda Di Lello Morton, co-owner of Terra Plata and Elliot Bay Cafe, speaking with other small business owners on $15 an hour (Photo: CHS)

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.

Screen-Shot-2014-04-09-at-9.31.08-PM-400x259“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

American Hotel

Arc of King County

Ballard Chamber of Commerce

Belle Epicurean LLC

Big Mario’s Pizza

Cascade Designs Inc.

CEI

Consolidated Restaurant

Cowgirls INC.

Creative Retail Packaging

Crocodile

Dick’s Drive-In

Ethan Stowell Restaurants

Family Resource Home

FPO Inc. – Mel’s Market

Global Fulfillment

GSBA

Hilton Seattle

Hotel Andra

Hotel Max

HOWO LLC

Ivars

Joelles Café

Korean American Hotel Association

Korean Chamber of Commerce

Local 360

Lodging Association

Lost Lake Café

Macleod’s

Macrina Bakery

Maria Hines Restaurants

Mckenzie Chase Management

Mr. Villa & El Norte

MTR Western

Nell’s Restaurant

North Seattle Industrial Association

Nucor Steel Seattle

Onto Entertainment

Pagliacci Pizza

Peterson Sullivan, CPAs

Pho Cyclo Café

Poquitos

Ray’s Boathouse

Red Door

Right at Home

Seattle Historic Waterfront Association

Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce

Seattle Restaurant Alliance

Sip Restaurant & Melting Pots

Skillet Restaurants

SRA

TD Restaurants

Terra Plata LLC

The 5 Point

The Comet Tavern

The Yarrow Group LLC – Evergreen Salad

Thrive

Vios Café

Von Trapp’s

Wallingford Chamber of Commerce

Washington Health Care Association

Washington Multi Family Housing Association

Woodland Park Zoo

Zeeks Pizza

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.

40 thoughts on “Capitol Hill businesses join forces big and small in minimum wage debate — UPDATE

  1. “training wage”? All work is equal. An honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay. PERIOD.
    I don’t want to eat in places where the staff is angry and poor. I don’t want to hand over my credit card to them.
    Why don’t you people “phase in” your fancy cars and houses, and pay your employees what you owe them right now?

    I’d like to know how much Alex Fryer is making. I’m sure it’s better than $15 an hour.

    • PDC reports show Fryer typically makes between $5,000-$10,000 for active consulting during campaigns each month _per campaign_. This is not including base wages and non-campaign money.

      Good on him for finding a racket. Sad that OneSeattle is probably paying him a whole helluva lot more than $15/hr to fight back against $15/hr for voters and citizens not otherwise able to hire lobbyists.

  2. I doubt Auntie Annie’s Bret Stewart actually allows his employees to work a fulltime schedule so the comment about his “teenage” employees making $30,000 is unlikely to be accurate in any way.
    I support the idea of a $15.00 minimum wage. I work fulltime and more for a global company headquartered in Seattle and I make a whopping $12.50 per hour. In my field of customer service that’s considered a competitive wage. My rent on Capitol Hill has been raised by $100+ every year without fail and the price of groceries and basic necessities is going up – not down. I have to rely on overtime and bonuses (my field’s form of a tip) to make up the difference. Right now I need to work 55hrs a month in order to stay above water. I have no credit cards and no excess spending, I can’t afford it – my family can’t afford it.
    If the the minimum wage is increased to $15hr – even if only for larger companies of 45 or more employees – people would have more spending money, more money to put back into the economy and that will help all of us..

    • What’s the point of earning a higher wage if your hours and benefits get cut? What’s the point if the price of everything you buy goes up because businesses have to offset the increased labor costs? You’re just right back where you started.

      Consider yourself lucky that you get overtime and bonuses in customer service. I used to work customer service for a large Redmond-based company, making $13/hour with absolutely no overtime or bonuses. Sometimes I’d get scheduled for a full 40 hours, sometimes 16, and I lived with the constant threat of being laid off with no notice. I had to commute from Everett because I couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. I made it work.

      That said, I don’t know what your situation is like where you can’t live on less than $40,625/year (40 hrs @ $12.50/hr + 15 hrs @ $18.75/hr * 52 weeks/year). If you need that much and you really don’t have excessive spending, I’m guessing you have a sick child or some other unavoidable expenses such as that.

      • Did you forget to take out taxes? I have 2 children and I’m the only wage earner, that’s not unusual these days. I’ve never brought home more than $30,000 (Hit $30,000 this year for the first time). Your math is inaccurate. I would be more than willing to lose any bonuses or overtime to make an honest $15/hr. At least I’d know what to expect on payday. I also wouldn’t need to feel like i needed to kick everyone’s teeth in to be Queen of the Hill so I could get my bonus that happens Once every season.
        Honest pay for Honest work – NO-ONE should be paid below poverty level.

  3. $15.00 per hour is $15.00 per hour in wages. Tips are over and above an hourly wage, earned by good to superior customer service (incentive to treat me right) and should never be counted as a part of an employee’s wages, employee benefits are part of the cost of doing business TO THE EMPLOYER, not the employee. A training wage is nothing more than a sham — hire employees at the training wage and then fire them a hour before that expires. Finally a phased in approach is nothing more than avoiding paying employees $15.00 an hour.
    What part of $15.00 per hour don’t you understand?

    • A tip isn’t for good service, it is a dumb cultural norm in this country to subsidize employers paying less the appropriate wages. If we raise the minimum wage to something that is livable, tipping should be eliminated completely.

      • I’d happily zero out that tip line for the ‘hipster service’ I get at most locations around Capital Hill if they start making $15 an hour. I’m pretty certain most of the places I go to that the wait staff is making at least $15 off of me alone and that the wait staff is serving at least 4 tables besides my own. Their hours are shorter due to the nature of the work and the higher opportunity for earnings related to quality of service.

      • I for one won’t be tipping if minimum wage is $15. Anyone who thinks tipping is for exceptional service is sorely misguided. Tipping is the norm if the service provider doesn’t royally screw things up.

        And why do people deserve to live in a certain neighborhood?

  4. If we boost $15 an hour for food service..I can forever write 0 in the tip line..so that part I would appreciate.

    Most customer service positions are a “get a body in here” positions, especially over the phone. In the future as has already been happening, these will transfer over to the Philippines or just become automated, increasing wages just helps make that decision easier.

    If I was a customer service call center provider in Cebu City or Makati, the first thing I would do after the $15 wage increase is contact all phone/call centers with business proposals.

    The purpose of working a lower wage should be to get into a higher wage, whether by promotion, training, education or going on your own. Social engineering projects pumping a wage structure overnight by 60% will cause changes, some good(motivated lower end workers will do well) and some bad(cuts in labor force, look towards eliminating or absorbing positions).

  5. “According to Angela Stowell… 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.”

    Suffer the children! How much is she making per year? And she gets to decide the wage of the people I see struggling everyday to get by? She’s worried about the people who spend $32 on the halibut at Anchovies and Olives. I’m worried about the people who can’t buy groceries because their rent has gone up so high since her restaurants moved in.

    • did you even read the article or the attachment? they support increasing the minimum wage to $15 and most of their employees make way over $15 an hour even up to $32/hr.

      • Hahaha! If you think this organization is for increasing the minimum wage to $15, you are blind to modern day politics. This is a clear attempt to stop it and it will succeed because it is being presented as in favor of it.

        Did you read Tom Douglas’ letter? He says, “When a local has to choose where to dine, they are now faced with a 520 bridge toll, increased parking rates and hours, future tunnel tolls, terrible traffic jams and now a possible 20%+ menu inflation.”

        Aw. I’m crying Tom. Try facing no food on your table or no roof over your head. Dining out is a privilege. Food and shelter is a necessity.

        • yeah, i read tom’s letter. it said the dish and prep cooks make $12/hr and $13/hr. looks like no insurance with that either unless you’re mgmt.

          his wait staff can make up to $40/50 an hour which is consistent with what angela stowell said about her waiters.

          i think the restaurant specific concern is that if the wait staff gets $15/hr, then patrons will stop tipping and they’ll end up earning less per hour.

          i’m not blind to politics. i know that these groups actually are for the increase – even including meinart.

          the ethan stowell restaurants even showed their revenue numbers which is very brave. and they’ll run a -7.5% loss with an immediate bump to $15/hr and stop their $100k of charitable giving.

          i think it’s possible we’re both right on this. a 20-25% increase in menu price will decrease the number of customers. that seems obvious.

          the businesses that lose will be the ones who only succeed due to very cheap labor with no benefits. places like mcdonalds that you and i have no sympathy for.

          i think the local businesses around here realize that $15 is going to happen. i hope it does. i just want it to be a win-win so our local businesses that we love are able to thrive and people who are underpaid get more. that will require debate not platitudes.

  6. Wow, I should have worked at Pagliacci in high school/college/after graduating. Great base pay and benefits. Though the 20 pounds I would have gained from the free food would have been rough.

  7. Bryan – Your article is wrong saying One Seattle opposes a $15 minimum wage. They support it. You should fix that part of your article. If it does oppose $15, my businesses will be taken off the list of supporters.

      • “oppose immediate”, or “support increase over time”. so much for unbiased reporting.

        it’s hard to imagine that business that support increasing minimum wage are made out to be the bad guys. 15Now will lose supporters at this rate with their “with us or against us”. tipped employees stand to lose with an across the board increase but 15Now doesn’t want to hear any of it.

          • of course you are right about inflation. no doubt.

            how did you get to $12/hr and when is that equal to $15?

            obviously you’re right, but can you share how you reached that conclusion and which year you estimate that $12 will equal $15 today.

            thx

    • I don’t believe Bryan was attempting to state that this organization is opposed to raising the minimum wage to $15, he was pointing out that one of their main points is opposition to an immediate increase to $15 per hour. But it’s kind of serendipitous that one might see it that way as this entire organization is actually an attempt to stop the minimum wage being raised to $15 per hour. And it will succeed for that very reason, because it is being presented as being in favor of it.

    • If you support a tip penalty or total compensation, then you’re not actually supporting a $15 an hour wage. You don’t get to redefine reality like that.

  8. If you can’t afford capital hill don’t live there, move to Tukwila or Lynwood. I want to live in windemere or medina but I live near Northgate because that’s what I can afford. You better plan on moving anyway because between $15 an hour and light rail opening the rent is going up way up on cap hill

  9. Is anyone else tired of this back and forth? Of course they are going to oppose a 15$ minimum wage, they would oppose anything that effects their margins. I am tired of anecdotal evidence on both sides. Fact of the matter is we live in a very wealthy, well to do part of the country, and a higher minimum wage is necessary and possible. How is it these restaurateurs can raise capitol for several restaurants, but yet are dumbfounded when it comes to paying their employees a living wage? Oh and total compensation is a farce. Its called the cost of doing business, sorry you have to provide your employees healthcare, sick days, and uniforms.

    Can we also stop to think about everybody else that would benefit from this? Take a look on Craigslist as some manual labor jobs. Few pay more than $15 an hour for skilled work. Gardeners, maids, maintenance people, custodians, all would also benefit from this.

    We are all in this together. We have to stop this us versus them mentality and think of the community we want to foster. Are we going to be beholden to a few wealthy people so they can build their tiny Tom Douglas-esque empires, or are we going to worry about the masses? Wouldn’t it be better to empower tens of thousands of people, rather than just a couple dozen?

  10. It’s not a big deal, Linda Di Lello Morton. If you start having money troubles, you can always get food stamps and ask your employees to take you to their food bank. They know where it is.

    You business owners are just going to have to cut back on your personal comforts like everyone else. Stop whining.

    I’ve already decided to stop tipping… or tip no one more than $2.
    Tipping is jut not sustainable anymore, sweetpea.

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  12. Bryan wrote, “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.”

    If Terra Plata can reduce costs by $300,000 per year by closing for lunch and all day Mondays and Tuesdays when the minimum wage is $15/hour, then surely they could reduce costs by a quarter-million or so by doing so now. What’s the holdup?

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