Proposals to raise the minimum wage just a dollar or two are often met with pushback from local business communities. Business owners in Seattle these days, however, are fighting a proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
City councilwoman Kshama Sawant, a socialist party member who took office in January, is promoting a "15 Now" campaign that calls for a $15 an hour minimum wage in the city. Sawant says that $15 is a livable hourly wage that would greatly improve the standard of living for the thousands of Seattlites who currently make $9.19 an hour, Washington state’s current minimum wage.
Seattle’s new mayor, Ed Murray, has thrown his support behind a $15 minimum wage as well, and issued an executive order in January raising the minimum wage to $15 for Seattle city government workers. Sawant proposes that big businesses in Seattle start paying $15 an hour on January 1, 2015, while small businesses get a three-year phase-in period that starts with $11 in 2015 and reaches $15 by 2017.
Many business owners spoke at a city council meeting last Friday protesting the proposal, saying it would force them to lay off workers and close their doors. While those are common arguments against the $15 minimum wage, many of the business owners expressed disbelief that the city would even consider such a dramatic wage hike.
Kathrina Tugadi, owner of Mr. Villa Mexican Restaurant, said in a statement to the city council that she supports raising the minimum wage. But $15 is too high. “Seattle’s economic future IS at stake,” Tugadi said. “A minimum wage increase is only one part of the solution to income inequality and this drastic minimum wage increase will put an unfair competitive burden on small independent businesses.”
Another restaurant owner, Tom Douglas, owner of Palace Kitchen, said a $15 wage would force him to cut 20 percent of his staff and force him to raise his menu prices by about $5 per meal.
However Councilwoman Sawant argues that big businesses are hiding behind local small businesses to attack her proposal. Larger companies, she says, can easily afford to pay their workers $15 an hour.
“Big business have not shown their faces in the debate, and they are glad as long as they can hide behind small business,” Sawant said last week, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, adding: “This is an example of working class activism and democracy that I hope will spread throughout the country.”
Despite the arguments from many local businesses, some economists say large minimum wage increases don’t have as detrimental effects on businesses as some argue. Economists at University of California in Berkeley have studied the effects of minimum wage hikes in U.S. cities—particularly San Francisco’s hike to $10.74 an hour. While they haven’t specifically studied the effects of $15 an hour, they found that $13 an hour “has no measurable effect on employment,” according to Michael Reich, a Berkeley economics professor, according to the Seattle Times.
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