Minimum wage hike fever is sweeping the nation, with Massachusetts being the latest state to raise its base wage above $10.
Many small-business owners have been strong critics of local and state wage hikes, saying they will force them to cut employees, raise prices and even potentially close their doors for good. Franchisees have been particularly upset about Seattle’s recent wage hike, because they have to comply with the $15 minimum wage in three years, whereas non-franchise small businesses get seven years.
Despite the chorus of critics, however, some small-business owners are expressing support for raising the minimum wage. David Bolotsky, owner of New York-based catalog retailer Uncommon Goods, pays his workers a base wage of $12—well above the state’s $8 an hour minimum. Bolotsky says he supports Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour because he claims that many small businesses already pay more than that in order to compete for labor against large corporations.
“Raising the minimum wage is really a matter of fairness for small-business owners, who overwhelmingly pay above the minimum wage already, yet are forced to compete with large out-of-state corporations that choose to pay rock-bottom wages while making billions in profits each year,” Bolotsky wrote in a recent column in New York Daily News.
Randy George, owner of the Red Hen Baking Co. in Middlesex, Vermont, says he supports states enacting “livable wages” and already pays his workers well above Vermont’s $7.25 minimum to compete for skilled talent. “As a business owner, if I’m going to attract skilled people and keep them, we have to exceed [the minimum wage],” he told The Vermont Watchdog. “So we don’t even look at the minimum.” Governor Peter Shumlin recently signed a law requiring businesses in Vermont to pay at least $10.50 an hour on Red Hen’s steps.
However George conceded that if Vermont were to raise its minimum wage to Seattle's new standard, it would place serious financial strain on his bakery. “If we suddenly had to pay everybody $15 an hour, that would be a huge impact,” he added. “That would be very difficult.”
The restaurant industry has been among the most vocal critics of minimum wage hikes because many restaurants hire large wait and kitchen staffs and pay them at (or even below) minimum wage, bolstering their workers’ pay through tips from customers. However, even some local restaurant owners have shown support for higher wages.
Jay Porter, owner of San Diego’s farm-to-table restaurant The Linkery, says that raising the minimum wage will force major chains like McDonald’s and Walmart to raise their prices. It will help even out the playing field, he says, because large companies are currently able to keep their prices ultralow by sourcing their goods in low-wage foreign countries.
In a recent column on Slate.com, Porter writes:
When individuals like me start businesses in our communities with the intent of selling quality goods and services, we quickly find that our biggest obstacle is the low prices offered by large corporations. The issue isn’t that those companies are selling the same things we are for less. The issue is that the low-priced commodities sold by superstores, warehouse clubs, and restaurant chains influence our customers’ understanding of what everything costs.
For example, the reason it’s hard to sell a really good, locally produced burger in many markets isn’t because the product isn’t worth it; even $10 or $12 for a handcrafted product that includes 6 ounces of grass-fed beef is a steal compared with what you can buy at Applebee’s or Olive Garden for that price. The reason it’s hard to market a high-quality burger is that so many companies sell burgers so cheaply—regardless of how bad they are—that we think a burger “should” cost only $5 or $6.
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