By Assunta Ng
Anxiety struck the Asian business community on April 24, when Mayor Ed Murray was supposed to announce his plan in the afternoon for the $15 minimum wage.
No one knew exactly what the mayor wanted to do. Drama began in the morning, with a chain of e-mails flooding many ethnic businesses’ inboxes.
One wrote that an Income Inequality Advisory Committee member had leaked details about the mayor’s plan, and the news didn’t sound good.
“The mayor’s proposal is calling for non-franchised businesses (Subway, McDonald’s, etc.) to go to $15/hr in three years. All other small businesses, such as our community, needs to be $15 in five years with everyone by $17.29/hr in 10 years.
“In essence, every piece of what you have been asking for has been totally ignored,” wrote the e-mail sender.
More than 10 members of the ethnic business coalitions showed up at the press conference within two hours’ notice, only to learn that it would be delayed until 3 p.m. The mayor didn’t come into the conference room until 3:20 p.m.
Many business owners had left to go back to work before the press conference started. Those who attended were surprised that Murray said he had no plans to announce due to the committee members’ inability to compromise. Murray said he would like to have a super majority on the proposal. If the committee cannot compromise, he will come up with his proposal in a few weeks.
Did the mayor ignore the minority small businesses’ concerns?
“I believe the mayor is totally ignoring our community needs and concerns by stating the $15 is going to happen for sure without obstacles,” said David Leong, owner of Aquabar Restaurant and Northwest Kung Fu and Fitness. “He then said the CPI (consumer price index) will determine the following increases. I asked the mayor, “Why isn’t the CPI used now to determine the wage increase? Why only after $15? He basically shut me down by saying, “This is only a press conference” and bypassed my question, another example of [how he is] ignoring our community.”
Yen Lam, owner of Lam’s Seafood, said, “The mayor didn’t take into consideration the devastating impact [the $15/hour minimum wage] has on minority businesses and immigrants’ jobs.”
I-Min Liu, owner of Oasis, said he was disappointed that Murray said ‘no’ to what the Asian community had proposed, such as a lower wage during training periods and a longer phase-in period for $15 wage. In everything the City proposes, “there should be a compromise,” he said. Liu continues, “The City offers no compromise, and just wants to push $15 wage through. The City is going to get more revenue out of increases from payroll tax (with $15 wage) and sales tax (due to merchants raising prices to cover the $15 wage).”
Liu said the Asian community should push for the City to give minority businesses some tax relief and assistance.
Leo Chan, owner of Jade Garden Restaurant, said, “City officials said we could raise prices to cover our increased payroll. Not true. Recently, our restaurant raised 10 cents in our dim sum items, and all of our customers noticed immediately and complained.”
Taylor Hoang, owner of Pho Cyclo Café, said she was also disappointed that Murray has completely left immigrants out of his proposal. “Maybe we are not important enough. He came to the International District to meet with us (on April 15). It was more like a courtesy. Our voice is not being heard.”
Sawant undermined the mayor
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a proponent of $15 wage, also scheduled a press conference immediately following the mayor’s conference inside City Hall.
That’s convenient to us media. We just moved five flights down after the mayor’s conference. But what signal is she sending?
That she can go over the mayor’s head anytime she wants. That she could manipulate the media and rebuke the mayor’s words, right under his roof, just minutes apart.
One elected official said Sawant is being ungracious in her gesture. How she got to the Seattle City seat is the opposite of being gracious, the official explained.
A crisis unites the ethnic business community
“How this $15 wage thing brought all the ethnic small businesses together was the most amazing sight (on April 23 at the New Hong Kong Restaurant),” said Hoang. “I have never seen anything like that before. We [minority businesses] were disconnected, we don’t see eye to eye [many times], but we came together, sat together, and banded together, as a community all bound by a common threat.
“We should stand together, we need to come together, be stronger, and make our voices louder about how much the immigrant and minority business community have added to the vibrancy of Seattle. The loss of the immigrant community will have a huge effect on Seattle.”
Even though many complain that the mayor doesn’t listen or care about small businesses dead or alive, minority businesses cannot be silenced.
The mayor’s proposal still has to go through the City Council. Sally Clark, council president, will play an important role.
Minority businesses have to get organized, and be ready when the council is going to act.
Don’t give up hope. It’s still not done yet. Learn from Sawant. Silence is not a strategy. Everywhere Sawant goes, she raises hell. People perceive that all the other City officials are afraid of her!!! How about that! (end)