New small biz group with anonymous membership proposes $11 minimum wage with tip credits

For months Seattle’s minimum wage debate has centered around $15 an hour or bust. Now a newly formed group, whose membership appears to be anonymous, says it’s time for Seattle’s small, independent businesses to push back. On Wednesday Forward Seattle released a direct counter to the $15 Now plan, in what seems to be the first detailed alternative to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.03.01 PM

The counter plan proposes an $11 an hour minimum wage for small businesses in 2015 with adjustments made annually through 2017. 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.

Forward Seattle also wants phase-ins for non-profits, but said big businesses could handle a jump to $12.50 an hour by next year. The group would use federal guidelines to delineate big and small businesses.

The group describes itself as a “non-partisan, self-funded, grassroots organization representing local, independent businesses.” CHS could not reach anyone from Forward Seattle in time for publication, but here’s what the group’s website has to say.

Forward Seattle advocates an increase in the minimum wage that is gradual, sustainable, responsible and measurable … Forward Seattle believes that an increase in the minimum wage is a matter of justice, solvency, sustainability and survival, not just for the Seattle local independent business community, but for the citizens involved in them and the public at large.

A few more points on the group’s plan:

  • No exceptions made for collective bargaining agreements or unions
  • Training wages, including a rate for workers under 18 years of age
  • A policy adopted must be measured, evaluated and reported upon for actual impact on low-wage earners prior to adopting new policy beyond 2017.

The Seattle Forward site also has this “open books” post about an anonymous West Seattle coffee shop. Many small business owners who want to pull the reigns on $15 Now have said it’s been difficult to discuss the issue publicly without being vilified.

The plan will surely be a topic of conversation at the next Capitol Hill Community Council meeting, where the entire April 17th meeting will be devoted to the minimum wage debate.

In a Wednesday piece for The Stranger, Andrew Friedman, owner of Liberty and soon-to-open Good Citizen, warned an immediate $15 an hour minimum wage would shutter small businesses. Seattle Forward’s counter plan comes a week after Mayor Ed Murray held his daylong Income Inequality Symposium on the Seattle University campus.

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42 thoughts on “New small biz group with anonymous membership proposes $11 minimum wage with tip credits

  1. Anonymous? They list their address as 4742 42nd Ave SW #327. That matches the address of the Seattle NMA, a group with membership that includes Marcus Charles — famous for backing McKenna — and wage skeptic Dave Meinert.

    While I 99.999999999% doubt Meinert would be so blatant as to back a group with such a horrifyingly condescending proposal that might undermine his stated support for a $15/hr wage, I’m not sure the same can be said for Charles who has generally remained silent. I’m just guessing here, but this seems like the sort of front he’d suggest, such as what we saw with his Progressive Conservative Coalition PAC. I mean, check it: the blog promotes a Washington Policy Center event which is a conservative “free market” think tank. But I guess I’d let him confirm or deny that specifically on his own.

    So while we can say that this is anonymous in the sense that we don’t know specific names, it’s not anonymous in principle: there is some connection to the Seattle NMA and a definite conservative bent to the organization. So, just a wild guess here, but it sounds like this is the counterpunch from Seattle conservatives who are seeking to undermine the minimum wage increase push and offer up a right wing counter-balance to the moderate viewpoint in order to drag the conversation to the right.

  2. In Regards to the “Open Books” post:

    Can someone explain this to me . . . I’ve worked for a lot of local businesses where the owners would constantly say that the employees made more money than they did. But then we’d see them buying new cars, houses, big screen TV’s, taking vacations, etc., without any other income. Here again, in this post, we have someone claiming $500-1200 a month as there take home pay. Why are they paying employees so much now then? Why not work at their own business as an employee if apparently they make way more?

    Also, if business are going to cut ours if the wage becomes $15, this means they have hours to cut, why do they not just cut them now?

    If a business owners is legitimately making $500-1200 a month, I feel they have every right to cut hours and not give raises . . . are they truly just these selfless people that are more interested in supporting employees than themselves?

    • I think small business owners who don’t pay themselves much are not selfless; they are just trying to keep from going out of business, and they themselves are the only ones they can really pay that little. No clue on the question about cutting hours though … maybe they haven’t cut hours because it would mean there would be fewer people at a time working and they would have to do too much. So it might end up hurting their service and would have to be a last resort.

      • I don’t buy the “I’m a business owner and I only take home $500 – $1,000 a month!” for a New York second. What are they doing – living out of their office? Seriously, even cutting out luxuries, it is simply not possible for ANYONE to meet basic living expenses: food, clothing, shelter & transportation (we’ll leave out healthcare for the moment), on $12,000 a year without some sort of public assistance. So, either they’re greatly exaggerating their situation, or else just being flat-out disingenuous.

      • You should believe it because it’s true. I was in Olympia last month for the “Hill Climb” and a business owner stated he had to take a second job waiting tables to make his payroll… and his own rent.

        The owner of The Confectional is supported by his partner at home. So, they live off one income.

        The answer my friend, is always in the middle.

    • I can offer some insight. I own a small retail shop in Gig Harbor. I started it 7 years ago and haven’t paid myself a dime yet. If you’ve noticed, the economy has been somewhat lackluster these past 5 years or so. So, I hang in there to fight another day and hope someday my business will become profitable. I imagine there are many similar stories for thousands of other small businesses in Seattle.

      In my case, my primary career is software consulting and I make a good living at that — that allows me to keep the secondary business afloat even with zero profit. I can assure you, the intention is always to try to get to profitability, so I hang in there. Maybe next year I’ll find time to put together an eCommerce site, maybe the economy will turn around, etc etc.

      Why is this wrong? I don’t force anyone to work for me. I don’t force anyone to come into my shop. I don’t force them to buy anything. I didn’t force the commercial property owner to rent to me. What is wrong with free choice and free markets? Don’t we want high school kids to be able to get first jobs anymore? You think people are going to pay $15 per hour for a high school kid?

      So, despite the fact that my secondary business does not turn a profit, I still take a vacation from time to time. Sorry if that offends you. I can tell you flatly that my employees have been the only ones so far to earn any income from my enterprise. I’m not complaining — it’s America and I will take my shots and if I hit it, great — I just don’t get where people get off convincing themselves that it is OK to steal.

      That’s what it is — stealing. When you take something from someone by force, it is called stealing. If minimum wage went up to $15 per hour in Gig Harbor, my cost of labor would go up $23,000 next year. That is on only $154,000 in revenues and $156,000 in expenses. You would be taking $23,000 from me, plain and simple.

      If you want to do that, fine, but you should be honest with yourself about what you are doing. And no, wrapping it up in the banner of democracy does not change the nature of what you are doing.

      • So, in other words, you can exploit your employees by paying them less than a Living Wage, but them demanding a Living Wage for their labor is “theft”?!?

      • Yes, taking something by force is theft. I have not forced anyone to work for me for $9.32. If we come to a mutual agreement to exchange an hour of labor for a certain amount of money, that is a consensual arrangement. Lobbying the government to set that rate is coercion.

        No one is being exploited — everything is voluntary, as it should be in America. I don’t think the 2 high school juniors that work for me for $9.32 feel like they are being exploited — I think that is a pretty decent wage for a high school student in their first job. And I’m not sure why they need a “living wage” if they’re living at home with their parents.

        In saying that, I don’t mean to lend credence to the term “living wage”, which is a propaganda phrase that I reject outright. I’m for freedom…freedom to choose in America.

      • I appreciate your comments and especially how a 60% rise in the minimum wage would adversely affect your business. I also think that the overuse of terms like “living wage” and “exploit” is only adding fire to the debate on this issue and preventing a reasonable dialogue. You are right that an employee voluntarily agrees to take the wage you offer, whether minimum or not, and it is not OK that they later complain about that wage. If they don’t like it, they can quit and try to find a better job.

        At least you don’t have to worry about this $15/hour minimum in Gig Harbor…at least for now!

  3. If the businesses can’t afford to pay the bills, they are not businesses, they are “businesses”.

    If you can’t pay, you can’t play. Sounds like these “Forward Seattle” types are just playing house and looking for welfare from workers, whilst they whine, moan, and complain.

    If you refuse to pay up, take your “business” to Alabama. Stop whining about the cost of business, and stop being so greedy. Downsize your lives. Get a TracFone instead.

    If someone comes in and orders lunch and can’t pay for it, I’m sure you “Forward Seattle” types are the first ones to feel ripped off.

    • That makes no sense. Someone could also arbitrarily come in and say “Everyone must be paid $100/hour. Can’t pay it? You’re not a real business.” There’s no particular reason $15 is a magic number everyone should immediately be able to pay, especially when it comes as a 60% increase (from the highest minimum wage in the country already!).

      • Of course it makes sense: $15 an hour is the minimum amount a person in this geographic region would need to live; not extravagantly, not even moderately comfortably; just to meet the basic necessities. $100 an hour MW would be ridiculous, because that amount far exceeds what is required to achieve that standard. It’s a false analogy.

  4. I am not part of Forward Seattle and neither is SNMA. One member of SNMA seems to be, and she set up a common PO box. That is changing immediately.

    To be clear, I support a $15 minimum wage, phased in, counting tips and healthcare in total compensation.

  5. There are large economic forces at work here so it just seems fascinating that the proposed $15 exactly slides over the total catastrophic breaking point for businesses. I feel the same responses would be happening no matter what the number. So operating within capitalism means workers need money to live. And workers should not be pitted against each other for lowering wages, though of course that happens all the time. It’s all messed up and we can’t pretend that except for this movement for $15, everything else is perfectly dandy, for either business owners or workers or yes, customers. I don’t know all the complexities of the issue. I just don’t want people to be myopic about it. And I don’t want small businesses to get the only focus. What about Target? What about Starbucks? They remain silent while this new likely red herring group is trying to draw the focus to small businesses. My opinion is if you can’t afford to pay your workers a living wage, you should voluntarily shut your business (or never open it in the first place) out of ethics. Probably naive. But that’s how I feel.

    • Max- While we may disagree on this issue, I appreciate you laying out your thinking – which sparked two thoughts in reply:

      1. I think you are on to something in your comment about the silence of the big corporations on this issue. While I’m sure they won’t like paying the higher wages, a high Seattle minimum wage is not going to push them out of business. But if the smaller players are pushed out, that gives the big corps more and more market share. That is the way this country is going anyway, but I am afraid it will be accelerated in this city. No bookstore. Fewer independent coffee shops and restaurants. No more Meinert joints unless you will pay Spinasse-like prices for his pizza and cheeseburgers. Etc.

      2. I agree we desperately need more living wage jobs, but why does every job have to be a living wage job? Doesn’t the city/economy need some shitty-wage jobs? To that point: It is not my dream for my young son to grow up and work at Dick’s for a career. But I think that would be a great early job for him while he is in school or figuring out what he wants to do in life. And they provide benefits and scholarships for their employees which you know the big corps do not do. That job is not for everyone but it is an important job for a young person or someone who has fucked up along the way and is trying to get their life back together. Every job does not have to be a career job and I don’t think legislating that will work.

      • (This isn’t all directed to you, just got me thinking, thanks)

        Your son has a father who can afford the internet and put a roof over his son’s head while he works at a shitty job. For him at that stage, yeah there is some value in just getting a job period. Just getting a resume started. Pocket change. Values. But your idea doesn’t fly unless those shitty wage jobs were only for the people who could afford to work them and those who couldn’t had living wage jobs available. Is $15 going to create more living wage jobs? I don’t know if it will create more jobs period. I’m not an economist. I just know that I don’t hear some people talking about creating living wage jobs except to criticize a movement for a higher minimum wage as not in and of itself solving what is obviously a deep and pervasive and complex problem of income inequality and opportunity inequality.

        If there were more job mobility, more affordable or government-funded job training, more accessible educational opportunities, full gender, racial, and ethnic wage equity in the workplace and in hiring, etc. then maybe some people would choose to fill the shitty wage jobs. But in the absence of all those solutions being in place, this is a way to try to help the situation. This issue should not be looked at in isolation and picked apart in isolation without looking at the broader context.

        Perhaps if someone can demonstrate to an employer they have other means of support (parental, lottery, whatever), then the employer would be authorized to pay them a shit wage. That way your son would have the wonderful right to work a shit wage.

        And I’ll add $15/hr is not a good wage. It was in 1995. Sorry about it but there’s a thing called inflation. I remember when I made what for me was the most I’d made at the time, $20/hr. I thought oh wow I’ve made it. Maybe I can buy a house. Um, no. And by the way, I’ve lived on Capitol Hill for 20 years and am about to be pushed off unless I get a roommate and I’m old enough that I am not in the mood for a roommate. I digress but not really because while we talk about money remember we’re talking about people. Everyone has their own story, their own experience. I’m open minded enough to know that. And to know that I don’t appreciate people holding up the specter of the destruction of small business specifically in relation to $15/hr when I doubt many of those same people have given a fuck about small businesses closing for other reasons. Do I care that Beyond the Closet bookstore is gone. Yes, but it closed way before this issue came up. Do I care that Chipotle makes it but the local El Salvadoran place in Broadway Alley didn’t. Yes, but it wasn’t because of $15/hr. It’s just so much more complex. Take this opportunity to take that in and not just say the first thing that comes to mind. I may come off a bit chaotic with all this, but that’s because I’m focusing on both learning and expressing.

        I think the voices of various businesspeople are very important and I don’t really get to hear them. I’m not in a businesspeople club. But I still have a voice. And I know there’s a window here to act. And if you had to choose $15/hr minimum vs. what I would actually want, which is a much higher minimum wage and an enforced maximum wage (I’m not kidding), then $15/hr would start to seem less scary.

        Don’t scapegoat the $15/hr goal. It’s much more complicated.

  6. I am not sure who is in this particular group, but there have been a number of small local business owners who have spoken up and tried to explain why this jump to $15 without moderation will be disastrous. I have heard very sincere concerns raised by owners of Elliot Bay Books, St. Clouds, Liberty, Dick’s, and, yes, Dave Meinert as well. As a long time resident of the hill, I value all of those businesses/people (and many others who are in the same boat) and what they bring to this neighborhood. I think it is really important that we not shout down their voices. We already have the highest state minimum wage in the country and I hear most (?all) of these local business people supporting an increase in that minimum wage – but with moderation and some thought/intelligence about how to do it fairly.

    Frankly, the $15Now crowd remind me more and more of the Fox News/extreme right wing in their bully approach – the one-note demonization of anyone who disagrees (even slightly) with them. While they are very loud right now, there are many of us who live here who are willing to listen and who will support these businesses and make sure this is done right (we just don’t post 387 times on every blog/website).

    • How is comparing anti-poverty activists to the tea party or Fox News not a premeditated effort to associate a tradition of civil rights activism with extremism? Remember, the fight for fair wages has long been a cornerstone of the civil rights movement. Trying to broad brush one group as good and then another as inherently evil (at least to the typical Seattle lefty) is the worst kind of shameful divisiveness.

      Please go read Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Use your CTRL+F keys to search for the term “moderate” and see where he goes with that. Go read or listen to I’ve Been to the Mountaintop. Read Remaining Awake through the Revolution. So much of what is being done here, today, now, is with solid roots in those words. Remember, the Evans School revealed that 40%+ of African American, Latin@ and around 70% of Native American workers — the ones that have jobs, at least — make below $15/hr. Don’t you think this sort of disparity is the sort of thing that might arouse a certain activism and push? Naturally, though, we see the pushback is that the activists are like their enemies, the activists are reds, commies of the worst sort, the damaging sort, and want to undermine what we hold dear.

      If it’s wrong to you to fight for this kind of justice, or extreme, or too fast or too much, then I respectfully submit that I don’t want to live in your world.

      • Alexjon, I have a question for you & it’s a true question, not a rhetorical one; many minority owned businesses are concerned that they will be affected disproportionately by a raise in the minimum wage at this level. Many of these are family owned & run businesses in South Seattle and the ID. They haven’t been very vocal but they are talking to City Hall and their own constituencies. How does your thinking on race & social justice connect with this? I really want to know.

      • AlexJon – you crack me up! I earned $3.35 making french fries for McDonald’s in Bend OR in the 80’s. I lived at home, learned how to hold a job, and got a better one the next summer. I did not cry for justice, demand a “living wage” or sit and blog to tell others how they think or believe was wrong, because it wasn’t the way I think and believe. I have worked so hard for everything I have, I don’t expect anyone to hand me anything and I wouldn’t want to live that way.

        No one has been able to tell me how making Seattle MORE expensive will make it more AFFORDABLE, and many folk currently on government subsidies will lose them – like food stamps, etc. They will also be put into a higher tax bracket – so the argument that they will have more to spend on the inflation this will cause is… bogus.

        Seattle is not Europe.

        You’re lack of business experience is blatantly apparent – be very careful for what you are fighting for. Ask questions, be a little less judgmental and open your mind.

      • AlexJon – why don’t you get a massive loan, hand over anything you own to the bank and start your own business to pay your employees $15 per hour? (Pssst, really it’s more like $17.50-$18.00 with taxes)

        Nothing is stopping you from fulfilling your own dream of paying people $15 per hour. Until you actually assume the risk, pay all the city, state and federal taxes…. you can’t really pay to play.

        Once you do that, and sign that 5-year business lease, I’ll start campaigning for $25 per hour.

    • I agree with you Scott. These 15 Now folks are like the right wing extremists in a way. They want their way or no way. They lack the same intelligence to bring a thoughtful discussion to the table.

  7. Web designer for Forward Seattle here. I also do the website for SNMA and check the PO Box, so I know David through that group but he is not in Forward Seattle and neither is Marcus Charles. Apologies for the confusion about the address placeholder. It’s been fixed to the newly set up PO Box for Forward Seattle. Same address, #395.

    Any questions about this issue email me directly at

      • Local independent businesses, as it says on the “About” page. Small retail, restaurants, bars, live music venues, salons, bookstores, bakeries, sandwich shops, cafes, contractors who build for these industries and yes, employees. Keep an eye out for op-eds from more owners and their employees alike…

        As far as “funding,” I made a free page. Social media and sending out press releases are free too. For now, we’re just trying to provide a voice for small businesses in this debate, not fundraise.

    • I have a question. If the members of Forward Seattle are so firm in their belief of $11, why not proudly list their names and businesses? Is it because they realize that they are championing oppressive wages t? Are they really ashamed of their own idea? Are they not actually the small local business owners that they claim to be? Finally, do the “thousands of students, parents, immigrants, and people with no experience” that they employee proudly stand with them too?

  8. I’m in it. Funding?! Seriously? A few people got together to voice their opinion of an immediate 61% increase in minimum wage and we get called right wing and republican. So if I’m not for the socialist I’m right wing?!

    A little about me. I co own a shop that employs 5 people, 3 full time. My lowest paid employee makes $20/hr and we are just now being able to offer benefits on top of that.

    I, as well as the group, are for raising the minimum wage. Many of them up to $15. Only difference is it would be phased in to allow businesses to adjust.

    I should not be vilified for speaking out. And you should listen to people’s concerns with respect.

    Is it really a surprise that people aren’t speaking out when this is how they’re treated?

    Come on now. We’re all liberal people in a very liberal city. We’re just hashing out some details.

  9. Thank you Brian for picking this up!

    I do not own new cars or a house. I am not a member of SNMA. My goal is also for people to not be myopic about the minimum wage issue.

    I am one of the owner/operators of El Norte Lounge and Mr. Villa Mexican Restaurant in north Seattle. I am a member of a newly formed, non-partisan, self-funded, grassroots organization called Forward Seattle. We met while attending the numerous Council Meetings and decided that we have a common cause. In addition to being small business owners, we are also concerned citizens and all volunteers. Every expense is self funded by the volunteers. Decisions are made by committee and while we do have a collective voice, we all still have our own individual opinions which are in no way eclipsed by the Forward Seattle message. In this light, all the members will publicly declare in their own time.

    I apologize that no one was available to comment before you went to post. Just a simple clarification on the article — where the newest proposal by Sawant is $15 in three years, ours is $12.50 in three years, not $11 as the title suggests.

    For anyone interested in reading the proposal in it’s entirety, it is on the website at:

    Kathrina Tugadi

  10. Even if Forward Seattle is really made up of all small-business owners, it just looks really suspicious to do this anonymously. They could be backed by Target and Starbucks for all we know. I don’t think the divisiveness of this issue is helped at all by being an anonymous group. That makes 15 Now types instantly go for the big business conspiracy angle.

  11. The proposals by Forward Seattle seem very reasonable to me…an intelligent compromise between the 15Now people and doing nothing. Their specifics are hardly right-wing……more like “moderate.” I suspect that, in the end…after the Mayor’s committee has their say…the final decision will be something like Forward Seattle is proposing.

  12. I’m for allowing businesses to phase in a new minimum wage. But, please let’s not penalize tipped workers. I’ve worked in states that allow this and workers often end up making much less than minimum wage with little recourse. Yes, bartenders make a lot of money( and work hard for it) but servers at Denny’s don’t. Trust me, this is not a good plan. Even if you don’t care about workers, think about this- it will make service worse.

    • Yet another reason to remove tipping altogether. Raise prices across the board 20% and pay everyone a living wage. The rest of the civilized world already does this.

  13. Can someone, anyone please explain how a minimum wage increase would affect the local economy? The reason I didn’t vote for Sawant is because her website said nothing about this. How a city can more than double the minimum wage and not have prices skyrocket is something I’m particularly interested in. It’s telling that small businesses would have to shutter or decrease worker hours. Is everyone ready for prices for everything to increase? Because, if you haven’t already thought it out, there are far more sub-$15/hr workers than just in fast food. Workers in: offices, hotels, stores, manual labor, etc. I can’t understand how you can raise a wage without equally raising the price of goods, which defeats the purpose of the wage increase.

    • SR, you are correct, raising the minimum wage drastically will have the effect of raising the price of goods, which will tend to defeat its purpose as you have surmised. That is just one of many reasons that it is bad policy (shuts low skill workers out of any employment, relies on coercion, ignores laws of economics and supply and demand, and it goes on and on). Seattle is sadly run by people who are economic illiterates.

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