Letter to the Mayor

Dear Mayor Murray and members of Seattle City Council, Forward Seattle is group of small business and community members, representing manufacturing, retailing and service industries, in addition to non-profit organizations. We are extremely distressed by the issue of income inequality in the city and have joined together to work with you and others on identifying and implementing a thoughtful, commonsense solution to this problem. We believe that increasing the minimum wage is an important step towards addressing income inequality. At most of our businesses and organizations, workers’ starting wages are above the minimum wage set by the State as a floor – because its common sense, the market dictates it, and because we think it is the right thing to do. That said, any plan for a minimum wage increase must be crafted and administered in a way that is sustainable and responsible, not just for the small business community, but the people working as an integral part of this community, and the Seattle public at large. Up to this point, our perspective has too often been drowned out or mischaracterized by special interest groups or more prominent voices in the debate. We write to you today to clarify our goals and to define our position in this conversation. Our proposal is dictated by the necessity of balancing the interests of the working poor, the economic welfare of all citizens of Seattle, and crafted utilizing our extensive experience with management of real-time data, projections and statistics. We of Forward Seattle propose an increase in the minimum wage in the City of Seattle in the following manner: $12.50 as of 1.1.2015 for all businesses with annual sales above levels defining small business, as per SBA definition per industry; for all other businesses: $11.00 as of 1.1.2015 $11.75 as of 1.1.2016 $12.50 as of 1.1.2017; and that Wages include: tip income, bonuses, commissions and profit-sharing as they are real, traceable and currently taxed as part of a worker’s income; The current floor of $9.32 an hour be retained as the minimum wage for tipped and commissioned workers, adjusted annually to account for inflation; No exception be made for collective bargaining exemptions; job retention v. wage growth are equally important to unionized and non-unionized workers; Sufficient exemption and reasonable phase-in periods be provided for non-profits in direct service of the under-privileged as well as those supporting the arts community in order to allow enough time to re-draft their development plans and seek additional funding support if necessary; Sensible rates be established for training wages, along with establishing a youth wage level for workers under 18 years of age; and that The City urgently addresses the growing problem of unaffordable housing in the city, through an aggressive plan of developing multi-unit rental housing and accommodating it through incentives and zoning changes. This is the main issue depleting the purchasing power of the population. Following a comprehensive study commissioned by the City of Seattle to evaluate actual impact on low-wage earners six months prior to […]

Who are we

Well, I am one of the owner/operators of El Norte Lounge and Mr. Villa Mexican Restaurant in north Seattle. I am one member of this newly formed, non-partisan, self-funded, grassroots organization called Forward Seattle. We met while attending the numerous Council Meetings and decided that we have a common cause. In addition to being small business owners, we are also concerned citizens and all volunteers. Every expense is self-funded by the volunteers. Decisions are made by committee and while we do have a collective voice, we all still have our own individual opinions which are in no way eclipsed by the Forward Seattle message. In this light, members will publicly declare in their own time. There is no average profile of who we are. We are as diverse as are our businesses (retail, restaurants, venues, salons, bakeries, coffeeshops) and hail from every neighborhood and community. Since we have formed, many others have come to identify with our core message: It’s possible to have a thoughtful, sustainable implementation of the minimum wage ordinance.

Local, Indie Biz #2: Neighborhood Bar and Restaurant

In publicly discussing the $15 minimum wage issue, I’ve been cautioned by allies not to use logic, reason, and data to make my point, but instead to mirror the 15Now platform and stick to emotion-based polemics, apples-to-oranges “facts,” and simple slogans, as it is suggested that such manipulation works much, much better. Well, I just can’t do that. But here is the reality to this situation: That favorite coffee shop that you go to? That great neighborhood restaurant? That store where you buy your books, pet food, art supplies, or clothes? Each of those businesses survives on around a 5 percent net profit margin. That means that at the end of the year, after all the expenses—the payroll, the supplies, the inventory, insurance, rent, etc.—we all will end up with only about 5 percent income in our pockets if we’re doing a half-decent job. Maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less—but you get the idea. This does not leave a small local business with much room to absorb even a small incr ease in costs, much less the 60 percent increase demanded by the well-meaning but ill-researched and biased reporters and neighbors involved in this discussion. Here are some more boring facts: Payroll is approximately 30 percent of my entire costs at Liberty, the bar I own (the average in this business seems to be 30 to 35 percent). If the minimum wage goes up to $12.50 an hour (a reasonable middle ground some have proposed), that would be an increase of 34 percent, which means just to stay even I’d have to raise prices 10 percent across the board—the labor’s percentage increase in total cost to operate Liberty. If the minimum wage goes to $15 an hour, I’d have to raise my contribution to payroll by 18 percent. So my costs would have to rise by no less than 18 percent, just for payroll—and that’s before my vendors’ increases in costs have to be considered, which I believe will be around another 5 percent, and that’s before Liberty adds any profit. So it’s not impossible to imagine that costs for business like mine in Seattle will go up by no less than 20 percent. Those increases are way more than my income. Again, my profit is around 5 percent. And it’s not just me, that’s across the board—for restaurants, for bars, for clothing stores, for pet stores, for art supply stores—many of whom have set costs and are competing with online retail. This makes it very difficult for them to adjust their purchasing. Here’s the deal though—small businesses like mine want to work with the mayor and city council to raise the minimum wage and find a reasonable middle ground. Because we know our numbers, and because we have worked so hard to get where we are, many of us are very serious about trying to communicate with our elected politicians and the Seattle citizenry to relate to you our REAL numbers.   (This excerpt is reprinted from The Stranger with permission of […]

Local, Indie Biz #3: Small Manufacturing

I own a small skincare and cosmetics company, specializing in producing high quality, healthy, non-toxic skincare and makeup products. We manufacture all our products in-house, so we are a mix of light manufacturing and retail. Because I make my products in-house, I’m able to provide Seattle with fully customizable skincare, which means I can help folks with really intense sensitivities who would not otherwise be able to use skincare or cosmetic products.  In addition, I am extremely active in the Capitol Hill community; I am currently in the process of mobilizing a block watch patrol (called Out Watch) in Capitol Hill on the weekends to try to protect its denizens from the skyrocketing crime rate. I also regularly donate to local theater/drag/burlesque events. I do all of this because I love Seattle, Capitol Hill, my clients and my employees. I feel like I should emphasize that I am just like many of the 15Now proponents, in that prior to opening this business, I worked at many crappy, minimum wage jobs for years. I worked my way through my undergraduate degree while supporting two children as a single parent. In order to pay the bills, I waited tables. In grad school, I took a massive pay cut and still managed to support my children on $18K a year. I am intimately familiar with a life that involves too many bills and not enough money. There were months I had to choose between child care and rent. Or between feeding my children and paying the electric bill. I am all too familiar with life on the other side. However, despite this, and despite my desire for everyone to have a livable wage, I can only say that raising the minimum wage in the way our legislators are considering will only serve to hurt those people they want to help. You’ve heard from scores of small business owners about how they will have no choice but to pass this increase along to customers. This is absolutely true for me as well. I don’t speak for my fellow business owners, but I have sunk every penny I have saved, every penny my husband has saved, and every penny of my children’s college funds to open this shop and keep it going. However, if a $5.68 minimum wage hike is enacted, I will be forced to move my entire operation elsewhere, most likely out of the state. With my absence, Out Watch will go with me. So will my support of the arts. So will my support of the community. Seattle will be less for losing our small businesses.

Local Indie Biz Story #4: I Am Your Barista

I’m your barista. I hand you a steaming hot cup of life four mornings a week, you greet me with a languid smile and slip an extra dollar in my tip jar. Some days, those dollars are like manna from heaven, because the rent and the student loan payments and the cards and the bills are all due. And I think I have that toothache again… So I should leap and applaud the suggestion of a 60% minimum wage increase, right? I am the worker! My wages are not sufficient for the current cost of living, my friends and co-workers are in a similar or worse situation. We should all be clamoring for our red T-shirts and posters, to stand up for recognition of our integrity and value! But as I’m rising to my feet to defend the latter, I am feeling deep concern and trepidation about what this proposed legislation could mean for workers, for my customers, for my friends, and for me. I work for a small business, and I know how devastating a huge minimum wage hike would be for us. I can show you the faces of the two dozen employees who would likely have their hours severely cut or lose their jobs. I can also tell you that such a loss would not be the result of profit-hungry owners pilfering from their employees, or miserly proprietors refusing to sacrifice profits. This is a matter of numbers, of businesses like the one employing me having too small of margins to be able to sustainably absorb the impact of this proposed wage legislation. This is especially unfortunate because small business owners have a unique capacity to be empathetic and to have the motivation to support their employees. This has been true in my own experiences working for several small businesses. They are the backbone of local industry. Yet they have been severely underrepresented and even ignored in the language of the 15 Now campaign, mentioned mostly as something behind which “big business” is trying to hide. There are legitimate concerns being voiced by the community of small businesses, and that they are being dismissed is very troubling to me. As an employee, if small business in Seattle suffers, I suffer. My community suffers. My friends and their families suffer. This eclectic community of mine encompasses a wide variety of workers and proprietors, and we need the conversation around wage legislation to be equally inclusive. As it stands, the rhetoric of the 15 Now movement has set up a dangerous dichotomy. Minimum wage workers are lumped together on one extreme, set up against the diabolical big businesses on the other. These divisions are not only inaccurate, they also lead to potentially detrimental conclusions. Minimum- and low-wage workers are comprised of anyone from high school and college students, to single independents, to parents, grandparents, and more. Some struggle to support a family or live on their own, and some live communally with other workers. Some receive financial assistance from the government or private sources. Some work two or […]

How minimum wage affects Fixed Income

City of Seattle, by its proposed act of setting $15.00 an hour minimum wage for one class (whoever fits the ultimate policy scope) while holding other taxpayer classes hostage, steals purchasing power from fixed income recipient taxpayers of Seattle, who have already worked and paid their dues. cost-of-living-i-300×161 $15-minimum-wage proponents admit the cost of living will increase for everyone, yet fixed income recipients cannot compete for a better job or a better fixed income program. They can not change horses, but can only stay on the dying horse they are tied to until it falls over and crushes them. A fixed income recipient getting $12,000 per year from Social Security is about equivalent to a $6.00 per hour wage, with no employer benefits, after a lifetime of raising a family and working. Is City of Seattle going to raise this person’s fixed income from $6.00 an hour to $15.00 an hour to maintain some form of fairness in compensation and purchasing power? Or will it be raised to $12.00, the difference between $6 and the current minimum wage? How will that be paid for?     People asking for an arbitrary minimum wage are totally out of line with any form of equity and due process that takes their neighbors and parents and grandparents into consideration. Fixed income recipients are denied effective representation inside of government, if Seattle implements a minimum wage policy that does not also raise fixed income recipients’ income proportionately.

Seattle’s Tipped Employees Are Not Low-wage Workers

Last week we presented a counter proposal to $15Now or the newer $15-in-three-years. This week we start a series of reports that make our case along with supporting testimonials from employees and the public at large on this site. For now, we’re presenting data in support of how Washington already offers its workers the highest effective minimum wage in the nation. Effective Minimum Wage (EMW) = Minimum Wage Adjusted for the Cost of Living Maintaining the current state minimum wage of $9.32 for tipped employees will allow independent business owners the opportunity to absorb wage increases for their non-tipped workers, maintain existing staff levels and in some cases, continue operations. – Tipped workers have more purchasing power in Seattle: Seattle provides the highest effective minimum wage for tipped and non-tipped workers of any major metropolitan area in the US. – Businesses pay more to operate in Seattle than anywhere else: Bars and restaurants in Seattle carry the highest effective labor costs of any major city in the nation. – Washington’s minimum wage is mandated to adjust annually already: Increases are based on the Consumer Price Index, keeping the minimum wage and purchasing power in check. The proposed increase in Seattle’s minimum wage is unique. We have set the bar for the minimum wage for metropolitan areas in the US for 20 years and continue to have the highest effective minimum wage. Making such a radical increase would be the first time that a city with the leading effective minimum wage has chosen to take such drastic action. Tips MUST be considered income in the minimum wage debate.

Public Opinion on Minimum Wage

The OneSeattle Coalition today announced the results of a public opinion poll that showed a sharp decline in support for an immediate increase of the minimum wage. The poll, conducted by DHM Research between April 10-13, showed support for increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2015 with a phase for non-profits and businesses with 10 or fewer employees at 47 percent, with 48 percent opposed. DHM Research conducted a telephone survey of 400 likely voters in the city of Seattle. A previously released poll by EMC Research in January 2014 reported 68 percent support and 25 percent opposed. “This city is in the middle of an important debate about wages and how to address income inequality,” said Louise Chernin, president and CEO of the Greater Seattle Business Association. “What these numbers show is that opinions are changing as more facts and analysis comes to light. We look forward to continuing the conversation and finding a way forward that works for Seattle.”

Minimum wage effects on small business

AFTER 22 years working as a server and bartender, I became a restaurant owner in 2011. It was a group effort, made possible by combining the finances and experience of longtime industry friends with the support of brave investors — a familiar story in the bar and restaurant business. Two years later, relying again on loans and investors, we opened our second restaurant and now employ 140 people. Our hope is that we can sustain these establishments and jobs, and continue to invest in the local community. The Seattle debate about raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour has left many restaurant and bar owners and employees hopeful for a pragmatic policy. We’re also concerned about the possibility of an ill-conceived plan based on ideology instead of practicality, especially when it comes to how tips are counted. Currently, all Seattle employees are paid at least the state minimum wage of $9.32 per hour. Servers, bartenders and other employees who receive tips make additional income on top of that wage, and the amount of tips can be substantial. Our tipped employees reported $1.5 million in tips in 2013. Much of the debate around the minimum-wage increase is whether to count these tips toward a potential higher local wage of $15. Whether the $15 wage takes effect immediately or is phased in over three or five years, we are potentially adopting an increase in absolute dollars greater than all of the Washington minimum wage increases of the last 25 years combined. Such a leap forward, from a position of already having one of the highest minimum wage levels in the country, is unprecedented. For our two restaurants, such a leap could have two very different outcomes. If tips were not recognized as income under a new minimum wage, our payroll would increase by $910,000. Eighty-two percent of that increase would go to a group of employees who averaged $23 per hour in 2013 when counting wages and tips. Tip income is taxed, reported to the IRS, appears on W-2 forms and is used by the state to calculate things such as unemployment benefits. If tip income were counted toward a new minimum wage, our business costs would increase $164,000. The money would go to those who don’t receive tips and currently make a flat wage of less than $15. This stark difference is what faces Seattle restaurants and bars of all sizes — a sweeping, massive, perhaps insurmountable increase on one hand or a focused, sizable, yet manageable increase on the other. The state already guarantees a solid wage for tipped employees, currently the highest effective tipped wage in the U.S. when cost of living is considered. U.S. Department of Labor data show that five of the top 10 paying metro areas for servers in the entire U.S. are located in Washington, and Seattle-Bellevue-Everett ranks No. 1 in the nation. The state minimum wage will continue to adjust for inflation every year. Many restaurant and bar owners, and I are […]

A New Minimum Wage

Even the savviest political consultants cannot predict what will happen next with Seattle’s Minimum Wage. The $15Now campaign has filed several petitions and will likely pursue a charter amendment for a vote of the people. If this occurs, there will be at least two more competing measures regardless of whether or not there is a decision by the City Council. Forward Seattle, the voice for Small Independent Business in Seattle, is proposing a straightforward increase in the minimum wage over the next five (5) years (by 2020) to $12.50 with no exceptions, no other compensation allowances. Voters must have this option made available to them. Let voters decide if they are satisfied with the compromises on the table. PRESERVE YOUR VOICE! Show your support by contributing toward the cost of filing a petition and signature gathering: JOIN FORWARD SEATTLE ‐ DONATE NOW We’ve met with experts, we’ve hired consultants, and we can make this happen with your support.