BLOG: David vs. Goliath in the battle of $15 wage

By Assunta Ng

Audience members, both for and against $15, came prepared with signs. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

David and Goliath showed up at the Seattle City Council’s hearing on the mayoral $15 minimum wage proposal on May 13.

Who’s David? Who’s Goliath? You would probably think that should be pretty obvious. But wait. Wait till you heard more from both sides before you deliver the verdict. Who are the victims of the $15 wage proposal if it goes through? Who’s the real loser?

At first glance, supporters of the $15 wage, wearing red T-shirts and holding signs, were spotted at different parts of the Rainier Beach High School’s auditorium. They lined up with speakers, from young students to workers, who shared their plight in dealing with challenges, including housing, health care, and zero luxuries.

Weren’t they the Davids, the little guys, living with minimum wage? They blamed big businesses and corporations for all their poverty woes. They complained that Mayor Ed Murray’s proposal failed the working class by giving a long phase-in to get to the $15 wage.

They did not mention their skill levels or need for education and training to improve their lives.

Seattle City Council members listen to the people. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

The unions orchestrated many of the people who testified, providing them with free T-shirts, printed signs, and flyers to make their point. For some, the union also provided transportation. With money and resources, the unions are not only politically savvy, they had impressive organizing machines with manpower to staff their booths outside the hall and distribute materials to support the issue. Most important, they have their champion, Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, who makes a political statement before the hearings on many occasions, unlike the other council members.

The word “business” is a dirty word among these little guys. So, when small businesses, many of them ethnic and immigrant business owners, got up to speak, the workers found out that they are not all from the big companies such as McDonald’s or Starbucks.

Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s Inc., said his company could afford the wage increase, but he hates to see what the $15 will do to the community, including ethnic businesses.

Many small business owners work long hours — six or seven days a week — just like those in the audience. They don’t make big money. Some are still in debt. All they want is to provide for themselves and their families. That’s their definition of the American Dream. Many barely survive.

None of these businesses were organized like the union folks. Many came late because they own restaurants and can’t afford to skip work during the dinner shift.

These small business owners didn’t have T-shirts. They couldn’t afford to hire political consultants. None carried any printed literature to present their case. Some couldn’t speak English. They needed translators. This was the first time I saw them speak in public. I could tell they were nervous, but they had no choice.

The $15 wage is going to break them. Their wish is to see their businesses survive so their families don’t need to suffer, that’s all. They are not against workers.

What’s worse for these small businesses is they’ve got no weapon at the City. Obviously, they have no one to speak for them at the City Council. Some council members are simply tired of this issue and want to move on to take care of other city issues just as significant, according to an insider.

At the beginning, some workers booed when immigrant business owners spoke. Towards the middle of the meeting, there was less disruption from the other side. Perhaps, the little guys finally got a glimpse of another bunch of little guys that look good on the surface, but struggle every day just like them.

Thank you, Seattle City Council, for bringing the two sides together so they could confront  each other face to face, and gain a new level of appreciation each other’s stories.

Readers, you decide. Who’s David? Who’s Goliath?

Don’t give up yet

Minority businesses are concerned about the mayor’s proposal on the $15 minimum wage. Let the mayor and council members know they need to hold hearings for the proposal. We need more time to study the proposal. Seattle Council members, don’t just shut us out. Hear us out before you vote on it. (end)

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