Could Seattle’s $15 hour minimum wage have an impact in the suburbs? That was one question raised by the Washington Policy Center’s small business forum at its Solutions Summit on Wednesday in Bellevue.
“I have two clients, both of which are in Seattle, who are planning to expand,” said one commercial real estate agent who spoke during the question-and-answer portion. “They’re not going to (expand in) Seattle.”
Former Starbucks president Howard Behar, who spoke on the panel, questioned whether there would be a ripple effect on Seattle’s neighbors.
“How many people think that manufacturing will move out of King County? That shipping jobs will move out of King County?” he said.
The Washington Policy Center, a pro-business think-tank, held the event at the Hyatt Regency to highlight and preview its legislative priorities for the 2015 Washington State Legislative Session, which starts Jan. 12. The event was attended by about 400 business owners, local politicians, and state lawmakers.
Other topics covered at the event included the state budget, transportation issues, education, the environment, and the Affordable Care Act.
The small business forum included restaurateur Taylor Hoang, who owns Pho Cyclo Cafe restaurants in Seattle and in Bellevue.
Four Pho Cyclo locations are in Seattle, where the city council last year unanimously passed a minimum wage increase that will reach $15 an hour by 2024 for small businesses and by 2017 for businesses with more than 500 employees nationwide. A full-time worker making $15 an hour would make $31,200 a year.
Seattle’s move followed several months of deliberation by a committee that included representatives from labor, business, and nonprofits and came less than a year after the city of SeaTac voters approved a $15 minimum wage.
The push for a $15 minimum wage crossed Lake Washington in September, when fast-food workers marched in support of a wage increase.
Hoang said that Seattle’s phased-in minimum wage will hurt her entry-level employees. The current minimum wage “allows me to hire students, allows me to hire new immigrants to this country,” she said.
She added that the boost in pay won’t offset other federal and state benefits and grants that employees might lose because they will earn too much, creating what she says will be a disincentive to work.
Behar was critical of the lack of organized business response, especially from the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and larger companies like McDonald’s and his former company, which did not speak out against the Seattle law.
“The problem with the business community is that we have what I call ‘Northwest guilt.’ It’s sort of like Jewish guilt,” Behar joked.
Behar also criticized the idea that the minimum wage jobs were meant to sustain families.
“The stories we hear about people in a minimum wage job for 15 years … there’s something wrong with that person,” Behar said.
Behar said it was up to small businesses to organize and speak out against the efforts to push for a higher minimum wage.
“If all of you are waiting for the big companies to come out, it will not happen,” Behar told the crowd.
The jockeying over minimum wage is not over. The International Franchise Association filed a lawsuit last August to fight Seattle’s minimum wage law, and several Seattle business groups are organizing.
And supporters of a raised minimum wage, including the Service Employees International Union, are pushing to raise the state minimum wage from $9.47 an hour. In the 2014 session, lawmakers considered a bill that would have increased the state minimum wage to $12 an hour.