Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage is on the books, but some business owners on Capitol Hill are continuing to support efforts to change it. The local business group Forward Seattle recently appeared to have cleared its first hurdle to put the standing minimum wage law up for a vote in November.
Last week King County Elections began the process of certifying the roughly 19,000 signatures submitted by Forward Seattle to hold a referendum on the $15 minimum wage. The group needs around 16,500 certified signatures to force a vote.
Included in the funding behind Forward Seattle are donations by Capitol Hill food and drink owners. In early June, CHS reported on Forward Seattle contributions from Liberty Bar owner Andrew Friedman and Poquitos and Von Trapp’s manager Rich Fox.
Records show that Mike Bitondo, co-owner of Garage Billiards, and Jeremy Hardy, co-owner of Coastal Kitchen, have also made donations to Forward Seattle.
In a lengthy email to CHS, Fox said he and his business partners have always supported raising the minimum wage beyond $9.32 an hour, but disagreed with the $15 plan enacted by Mayor Ed Murray. Fox said he donated to Forward Seattle not because he fully supported their proposal, but because he thought voters should have a choice between multiple options.
I personally feel that it is not unreasonable for Seattle citizens to have a vote on the Mayor’s plan, considering it raises the minimum wage over 90% over the next ten years and will affect every resident in some way or another. However, I am not (and our businesses are definitely not) strongly advocating for a repeal of the Mayor’s plan in an effort to maintain the status quo and I’m disappointed that my donation from May is causing anyone to believe that about our restaurants or owners. As long-time bartenders and servers in and around Capitol Hill, we are hardly “right-wing ideologues” attempting to promote poverty wages as some have said. If there is any idea that we strongly advocate, it’s that our businesses are only truly healthy and successful if all of our staff members feel well-supported and well-compensated.
(Poquitos is a CHS advertiser)
Last week the group Working Washington staged a demonstration outside 15 Ave E’s Liberty Bar over Friedman’s donation to Forward Seattle. Friedman, who’s Good Citizen bar has yet to open at E Olive Way, has not responded to multiple requests for comment on this story.
Kathrina Tugadi, a Forward Seattle founding member and owner of Mr. Villa and El Norte restaurants, said a referendum on the current law was not her ideal solution to fighting for an alternative minimum wage plan, but is now the group’s last recourse.
“What we know is there are voices that have not been heard. This is why we want to bring the exisiting law to a vote,” she said. “We’ve always wanted to increase the minimum wage and $12.50 is what all studies supported.”
Back in April, as momentum was snowballing for $15, Forward Seattle originally coalesced around a proposal for a $12.50 minimum wage. After Murray signed the $15 plan into law, Forward Seattle attempted to get their $12.50 proposal on the ballot in November. When it discovered the measure wouldn’t be eligible to go before voters until next year, Tugadi said the group began planning for a referendum.
During Forward Seattle’s recent signature gathering campaign to hold the referendum, the pro-$15 group Working Washington claimed Forward Seattle petitioners had mislead voters in order to gather signatures. Working Washington is now seeking to get those names expunged by gathering signatures of people who think they were misled and submitting those names to King County Elections. Working Washington also posted this video that they said shows a Forward Seattle petitioner using misleading tactics outside the Northgate Target.
Tugadi dismissed the fraud claims, saying if anything some people were confused about the meaning of a referendum.
“There’s no evidence, no proof. Their objective was not to prove anything, their objective was to delay us so we couldn’t meet our deadline,” Tugadi said.
As for the mayor and council that passed the $15 an hour law, Tugadi said she’s still baffled by their actions.
“I wish I had the time and political savvy to know why they did what they did,” she said. “I don’t think any of them have been very forthright about their motivations.”
Meanwhile, the business group OneSeattle Coalition appears to have mostly dissipated after initially forming with some Capitol Hill support to oppose the $15 proposal.