What some Capitol Hill businesses are saying about the Seattle minimum wage study

Researchers from the University of Washington presented before a full City Council their early analysis of the impact of Seattle’s gradual march to a universal $15 minimum wage. The report — the first in a series of several commissioned by the council in tandem with their passing of the original wage hike ordinance — showed that, aside from a roughly 7% price increase in Seattle’s restaurant industry, there hasn’t been runaway cross-industry price inflation like some critics predicted. So, what do Capitol Hill’s bar, restaurant, and retail business owners have to say about the findings?

The report surveyed 567 Seattle businesses (the majority of whom have less than 500 employees, the city’s definition of ‘small business’) and 55 employees between the months of January 2015 and May 2015. During that period, the ordinance raised hourly wages to eleven dollars for non-tipped workers and ten for those receiving tips or medical benefits. And while the report didn’t find substantial price inflation (a look at grocery store, gasoline, and retail prices showed no noticeable increase), in addition to the recorded uptick in restaurant prices, a majority of employers surveyed said that they have or plan to raise their prices in order to accommodate the new labor costs.

“The bottom line is if there’s any place we can find price impacts, it is in restaurant sector,” research Jake Vigdor from the University of Washington Evans School of Governance and Public Policy told the council.

Capitol Hill business owners say these findings aren’t shocking. “We all knew that prices would go up and we’re seeing that as a result,” said Pike/Pine nightlife entrepreneur David Meinert. “I don’t think anyone should be surprised at that.”

Rich Fox, co-owner of Poquitos restaurant on Pike and the Rhein Haus on 12th, agrees. “What I see [in the report] is pretty consistent with what we’re dealing with at this point,” he said. “We’ve raised prices to account for the increase in labor.”

Both Fox and Meinert say that they haven’t raised prices universally (like bumping everything up 2% or what have you), but have strategically looked at what has been selling and where they think they can push consumer spending limits. “You pick your battles, where there is acceptable room to move and what you’ve sold in the past,” said Fox. Continue reading

Another chain restaurant set to be replaced on Broadway

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GS_LOGOThe Broadway Building, a project from a Capitol Hill-based developer across from Seattle Central at the corner of Broadway and Pine, has become an interesting place to watch some of the smaller shifts in the neighborhood’s food and drink economy as the city’s move to a $15 minimum wage plays out.

No word, yet, from the big chain’s corporate bosses on their decision to close the restaurant, but Broadway’s only conveyor belt sushi joint has announced it will close later this month. Genki Sushi, which opened in the Broadway Building five years ago, will close next week.

In its place, CHS has been told a local restaurant is already set to put the kaiten back in motion in the Hunters Capital-owned building.

While management of the Hawaii-based Genki chain with restaurants in the islands, Washington, and California hasn’t yet commented on the closure, the change will be the third transition from a chain or franchise in the building. In November, Ian’s Pizza on the Hill replaced a pizza joint whose owner blamed the city’s treatment of franchises as large chain restaurants for her decision to bail on Broadway.

Seattle’s minimum wage law kicked into high gear in 2016. Starting in January, minimum wage workers at companies with more than 500 employees got a an 18% bump in pay from $11 to $13 an hour. Small business employees were bumped up to a $12 guaranteed minimum, an increase of $1, and those who are tipped now get a $.50 base-pay raise bringing their minimum hourly wage to $10.50.

News of the Genki closure was broadcast by another of the Broadway Building’s new era of tenants. Local player Refresh Frozen Desserts replaced departed fro yo chain Yogurtland in September.

 

Like frozen yogurt and pizza, the departure of the sushi chain now opens a space for an independent — or, at least, non-big chain or non-franchise — entrepreneur to open on Broadway.

Seattle’s minimum wage law kicks into high gear with 2016 bump

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To celebrate the new wage law going into effect earlier this year, City Council member Kshama Sawant joined labor leaders and activists to pass out informational flyers and balloons to workers inside the neighborhood’s chain businesses. (Image: CHS)

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 3.43.51 PMMinimum wage earners in Seattle are getting another raise to kick off the new year. Starting in January, minimum wage workers at companies with more than 500 employees, which includes most fast food workers, will get a an 18% bump in pay from $11 to $13 an hour. Small business employees will have a $12 guaranteed minimum, an increase of $1, and those that are tipped will get a $.50 base-pay raise bringing their minimum hourly wage to $10.50.

2016’s scheduled increase is a big ramp up for Seattle’s phased-in $15 an hour ordinance, which was passed in 2014. The law went into effect this April, bringing all minimum wages to $11 an hour except for tipped workers, who went to $10 an hour.

Business owners on Capitol Hill have taken various strategies towards meeting the new requirements. Some businesses, like Molly Moon’s Ice Cream, had already brought workers to $15 an hour even though they likely wouldn’t be required to do so until 2021. While there’s been little evidence that the new minimum wage has effected business openings or closings, some Capitol Hill business owners told CHS they would have to continue to make changes to roll with the scheduled increases.

At 15th Ave’s Coastal Kitchen, menu prices will rise around 4% due to next year’s increase, according to owner Jeremy Hardy. He said the restaurant has made other changes to soften the blow to customers, changes that would continue as the ramp-up to $15 moves ahead.

“We have re-engineered our scheduling in the back of house (kitchen-typically the most difficult area to adjust as this is the power plant) as well as the front of house,” he said. “The real increases start in the following years when the increases will require a more potent elixir of adjustments to be determined.”

Retrofit Home owner Jon Milazzo said the starting wage for her employees has been $12 an hour for years, so the new minimum wouldn’t have any immediate effects. However, Retrofit will make hiring changes as scheduled increases continue past 2016.

“We wont offer part time jobs for students or entry level into our industry, you will only be able to work here coming in with a complete skill set. So that sucks all around,” she said. Continue reading

Seattle closes its first ‘$15 minimum wage’ investigation

It’s been five months since Seattle’s minimum wage law went into effect, effectively giving thousands of workers a pay raise as well as creating a new office to investigate violations of the law. Earlier this month, the relatively new Office of Labor Standards launched a dashboard to track the number of wage complaints and investigations.

So far there’s been just one closed investigation of wage theft in Seattle. It came against Homegrown sandwich shop, which has several locations in the city including one inside Capitol Hill’s Melrose Market.

According to Homegrown co-owner Ben Friedman, the investigation was opened in May after Homegrown was found to be miscalculating their tip credit at all their Seattle locations. Under the minimum wage ordinance, the tip credit allows smaller companies to pay $10 an hour if employees make $11 an hour with tips.

“Within days of receiving the notice, we sent letters out to all of our employees affected by the issue, along with back pay plus interest. The Seattle Office of Labor Standards quickly closed their investigation,” Friedman told CHS in an email. Continue reading

Owner says Capitol Hill pizza joint closing because of $15 minimum wage rules for franchises

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 10.56.16 AMThese restaurants weren’t closing because of Seattle’s new minimum wage — but this one is.

The owner of the Broadway location of Zpizza — a franchise chain with locations in 14 states, Washington D.C., and three “international” outlets — has announced she is closing her shop across from Seattle Central this summer after five years of service because Seattle’s new minimum wage law makes it too expensive for small-time franchise owners to do business.

“I’m a franchise. The law states that if you’re a franchise, you have to accelerate your minimum wage just like Amazon or Chipotle,” Ritu Shah-Burnham tells CHS. Continue reading

Pro-labor, minimum wage march through Capitol Hill ends with peaceful arrests

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(Images: Alex Garland)

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Several hundred people peacefully marched from downtown through the streets of Capitol Hill and into a Seattle University building Wednesday afternoon as part of a national day of action to support a $15 an hour minimum wage.

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In Seattle, where a $15 minimum wage is already on the books, demonstrators also coalesced around local labor fights.

To protest the Seattle U administration’s opposition to adjunct faculty forming a union, a group of professors and students sat down in the intersection of 12th and Madison for about 30 minutes before police calmly took them into custody one by one. Organizers from the group Working Washington say 21 people were arrested in all.

Ben Stork, a Seattle U adjunct film studies instructor, said contingent and part-time faculty are responsible for the majority of teaching at the university but have little to no job security semester to semester. Stork was one of the 21 arrested on Capitol Hill.

Continue reading

Beyond a $15 minimum wage march will culminate at Seattle U Wednesday

Activists celebrated the implementation of Seattle's minimum wage law last month. (Image: Alex Garland for CHS)

Activists celebrated the implementation of Seattle’s minimum wage law last month on Capitol Hill. (Image: Alex Garland for CHS)

Activists that helped push through last year’s $15 an hour minimum wage law in Seattle say they’ve only just begun.

On Wednesday, organizers with the group Working Washington are planning a march —  billed $15 is Just the Beginning — from downtown up to Capitol Hill. A rally at Occidental Park is slated to start at 2 PM, followed by a march that will wind through Capitol Hill to a permitted demonstration at Cal Anderson Park, culminating in a rally and teach-in at Seattle University.

Less clear is the path that the minimum wage fight will take from here. Seattle’s $15 law, which went into effect April 1st, phases in over seven years and sets a schedule for increases to follow into 2025. A bill to implement a statewide $12 an hour minimum wage died in committee earlier this month in Olympia.

Minimum wage demonstrations on Wednesday are being planned in a handful of other cities across the state. Here’s the schedule of events for Seattle:

2:00 pm: Occidental Park (S Main St & Occidental Ave S). Action at nearby corporate location
3:00 pm: Westlake Park (4th Ave & Pine St). Action and nearby corporate location
3:30 pm: Cal Anderson Park (1635 11th Ave). Homecare workers and others will rally at Cal Anderson before joining the main group coming up from Westlake
4:00 pm: Seattle University (12th & Marion, Chapel of St Ignatius Reflecting Pool). Teach-in and more to send clear message: $15 is just the beginning. Inequality ends with us.

In other protest news, a small group of Seattle Central College students took part in the #ShutDownA14 national day of protest over recent high profile police shootings of unarmed minorities. Organized by the by the Seattle affiliate of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, the group marched through the streets from SCC to join a rally in Westlake Park.

Tom Douglas Restaurants adds 2% ‘Wage Equity Surcharge’ — UPDATE: ‘I was trying to level the playing field’

(Image: Serious Pie Pike)

(Image: Serious Pie Pike)

The first phase in Seattle’s new minimum wage law kicked in April 1st amid predictions for higher costs and — at least in the long term — better financial equality in the city. At least a couple of the city’s major restauranteurs are pushing back immediately on the costs front. Wednesday, Tom Douglas Restaurants, operator of $$$ and up style restaurants across the city including the newly opened Serious Pie outlet inside the Starbucks Roastery on Pike, announced it was instituting an automatic “Wage Equity Surcharge” of 2% on every bill:

If you are reading this note, you have likely been to one of our restaurants and have seen the 2% surcharge funding the Mayor’s Wage Equity Surcharge (WES). After months of our team working together to craft the best plan for us to handle the wage increase, we felt the most competitive and least intrusive is to implement a surcharge equal to the increase in wages until all restaurants in Seattle are on the same playing field.

100% of this surcharge will be distributed to our staff in either wages or benefits. If there is a surplus, we will distribute it to current hourly staff at the end of the calendar year as a bonus and adjust the surcharge for the next calendar year.

UPDATE 4:45 PM: The blog post has been removed from the site. The company spokesperson has not yet returned our messages and the company’s social media channels have not addressed the situation. A cached version of the message can be viewed here. We’ve also posted a copy here.

UPDATE 8:45 PM: In a new post, Douglas writes that’s he is dropping the surcharge:

Thanks for reading my blog. You spoke and I’ve listened. Since posting my comments on 3/31 I have had many people tell me that they would prefer a clear picture of the debate and not my political comments that were unnecessarily snarky and snippy. I agree with you and have reframed my blog post to just the facts.

At the same time we are immediately removing the 2% wage equality surcharge we instituted on 4/1 so near future labor increases will be reconciled in the menu price increases as many of you have suggested you would prefer.

UPDATE 4/3/2015 8:50 AM: In a brief phone call from Minneapolis where he is traveling, Tom Douglas tells CHS he wants people to know he has been a long time supporter of the push for $15/hour and that he went about covering the costs of the new law the wrong way.

“I was trying to level the playing field,” Douglas said. “It was stupid of me to get political about the whole thing.”

Douglas said he didn’t intend the surcharge to be a symbolic act. He said he also didn’t mean to rile customers.

“What I should have done, obviously, is poll the customers,” Douglas said.

He said he doesn’t expect the climb to $15 will destroy Seattle’s restaurant industry.

“I’m all for $15, I’ve been saying all along. Those people need it. My employees already make $11 an hour. I’m really proud of that. I just didn’t frame my thoughts very well.”

The announcement, written in first person from the perspective of owner and member of the mayor’s “VIP panel of business and labor leaders” Douglas, also includes a lengthy background on the restauranteur’s view of how the fight for $15/hour played out in Seattle:

I know all of you eat at a variety of Seattle’s restaurants not just ours. With their plan, the Mayor and City Council have decided that restaurants of our size should pay approximately 10% more per hour for servers, bartenders, host and bussers than any of my contemporaries. Just on raw talent it’s hard enough to compete with amazing Seattle restaurateurs like Ethan Stowell, Matt Dillon, Renee Erickson and Thierry Rautureau. Now I get to pay millions more in labor cost on top of it.

Continue reading

Seattle’s minimum wage law goes into effect — but first, a Capitol Hill victory lap

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Council member Sawant stops inside a Capitol Hill Starbucks — but not for coffee (Image: CHS)

IMG_7434“Hip, hip, hooray! Seattle’s getting a raise!”

Around 100 people chanted the refrain while marching through Capitol Hill Saturday afternoon to celebrate the city’s new minimum wage law going into effect Wednesday.

City Council member Kshama Sawant joined labor leaders and activists to pass out informational flyers and balloons to workers inside the neighborhood’s chain businesses.

The march was a victory lap of sorts for $15 Now activists and a handful of workers who staged numerous rallies and marches around the neighborhood over the past year. Capitol Hill served as the backdrop to some of the most important events on the march to $15, from an early walkout at the Madison McDonald’s to Mayor Ed Murray enacting the minimum wage law. In between, there were symposiums, forums, studies, and countless speeches.

It will all come to a head Wednesday, when the minimum wage at Seattle employers with more than 500 employees will rise to $11 — an 18% jump. Employees at smaller companies with no tips and no medical benefits will also have a $11/hour floor. Small employers of tipped workers and employers that provide medical benefits may pay a $10 minimum and make up the balance with credit for the tips. Continue reading

Step $11* — Minimum wage rally planned Saturday on Capitol Hill

10448616_999792076715411_2076883839272315428_oIn 2014, Mayor Ed Murray came to Capitol Hill to sign Seattle’s historic minimum wage law. On April 1st, the first stage of the march to a $15/hour minimum for all Seattle workers (well, except these folks, maybe) will begin. City Council member and District 3 candidate Kshama Sawant, the biggest champion of the new wage, will return to the Hill for a rally to celebrate and defend the new law:

Seattle’s Getting a Raise – Now, Let’s Enforce It!
Saturday, March 28th at 1 PM
In Front of Seattle Central College – Broadway & E. Pine
$15 was won due to the efforts low wage workers, unions, and grassroots organizations. The next step is to make sure our bosses follow the law.

On March 28th we’ll be visiting low-wage workplaces to let workers know their rights. Join us and take action for workers’ rights under the new minimum wage law.

Starting next Wednesday, the minimum wage at Seattle employers with more than 500 employees will rise to $11 — an 18% jump. Employees at smaller companies with no tips and no medical benefits will also have a $11/hour floor. Small employers of tipped workers and employers that provide medical benefits may pay a $10 minimum and make up the balance with credit for the tips and bennies. No foolin’.


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