Minority biz reacts to $15 min. wage

By Staff
Northwest Asian Weekly

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on May 1 proposed a phased-in increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next seven years — a compromise endorsed by both business and labor that would make the city’s pay baseline the highest in the nation.

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Local business owners, from left, Yen Lam, Tan Nguyen, and Emma Herron make their opinions known at the mayor’s $15 announcement. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

The group 15 Now, led by City Council member Kshama Sawant, wanted to see an immediate wage hike for large businesses and a three-year phase-in for organizations with fewer than 250 full-time employees. They are gathering signatures to get their competing $15 wage initiative on the November ballot.

The mayor’s proposal gives businesses with more than 500 employees nationally at least three years to phase in the increase. Those providing health insurance will have four years to complete the move.

Smaller organizations will be given seven years, with the new wage including a consideration for tips and health care costs over the first five years.

Once the $15 wage is reached, future annual increases will be tied to the consumer price index.

Murray said 21 of 24 members of his Income Inequality Advisory Committee, which included representatives of business, labor and community groups, voted in favor of the plan.

“I think that this is an historic moment for the city of Seattle,” Murray said. “We’re going to decrease the poverty rate.”

The measure now goes to the City Council for discussion.

Fewer than 1 percent of the businesses in Seattle have more than 500 workers in Washington state, according to a study for the city by the University of Washington.

Labor leaders congratulated the mayor for starting a national conversation, which many credit to Sawant, who held a press conference following the mayor’s announcement. She said it wasn’t good enough.

“I don’t support phasing-in for big business,” said Sawant. “McDonalds and Starbucks have no justification for keeping their workers in poverty for a day longer. Every year of a phase-in is another year of poverty for workers.”

Several local minority business owners reacted negatively to the announcement. Yen Lam of Lam’s Seafood called it “disappointing.”

“Minority businesses are going to be pushed out of the city,” Lam said. “It’s a 61 percent increase in five years. That’s drastic. The mayor needs to hear from both sides of the story.”

“The mayor’s proposal is too fast, too much,” said Susanna Tran, agent for West Coast Commercial Realty. Tran’s business isn’t directly impacted, but she said adverse effects on other businesses could help hers. “Now that many small businesses will be shut down because of this proposal, it actually benefits my business,” said Tran. “With more space available, I can approach national clients to come into Seattle.”

“The increase is outrageous,” said Emma Herron, event coordinator of the Great Wall Mall. “Why dictate this to small businesses? Can’t the mayor just leave the businesses alone?”

Steve Boyer, a public relations executive who works with minority businesses in Rainier Valley, praised Advisory Committee member Craig Dawson for voting no on the minimum wage increase, saying, “Craig  understands small businesses” and the hardship they will face with this increase. It takes a lot of courage to do so, added Boyer.

Bob Park, a developer, said the increase will create challenges for younger people who want their first job. “If they want a job, they have to go to Bellevue to do so,” Park said.

“We hear so much about social justice,” said Dollar Rent-A-Car franchise owner Doris Cassan. “What is the justice when government is so intrusive into your business it creates such a burden you or your employees cannot be successful?” (end)

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