Income Inequality Symposium: Trade-offs? What Trade-offs?

(Previous posts on the symposium are here, here, here and here.)

At the same time as the panel I discussed in the last post, there was one that was held in another building, in a room with limited seating, titled “Strategies for investing in workers.” This was moderated by Maud Daudon of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Panelists included Jasmine Donovan of Dick’s, Wilson Goode of the Philadelphia City Council, Ken Meidell of Outdoor Research, Joe Fugere of Tutta Bella, and Michelle Rupp of NRG Insurance. Kriss reports that the panelists talked mostly about how they treat their workforce. For example, Rupp said that they started allowing employees to take whatever vacation they want, rather than allowing set hours. Essentially, the message was that if you treat your employees well, they’ll treat you well.

The last session of the day was called “Understanding trade-offs.” Did the symposium finally get in some opposing viewpoints? Not really.

The panel consisted of Heather Boushey, a pro-minimum wage increase PhD economist from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth; Dick Conway of the Puget Sound Forecaster; Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (a group that unionizes restaurant workers); Eric Pravitz, owner of Hoa Nail Salons in Seattle; and Allen Rickert, owner of Top Ten Toys in Seattle.

Seattle city councilmember Bruce Harrell was the moderator. He said that (paraphrasing) “since 9 a.m. we’ve been inundated with data and we don’t need more.” The question, to him, was: Should we go to $15 or compromise?

Conway suggested that a fair minimum wage—taking into account inflation, labor productivity gains, cost of living, and “Washington’s regressive state and local tax system” might be $13.48.

Jayaraman railed against tip credits, saying that “women have to sell themselves” if any of their income comes from tips. (To big applause and acclamation from the audience.) Pravitz, partly in response to Jayaraman, said that tipping is a cultural thing in the U.S. He pays his employees more than minimum wage and provides raises when workers prove themselves. He would like to see a tip credit—otherwise he would have to raise prices. Rickert also talked about how an increase in the minimum wage would affect his business. He said, for example, that it would affect his willingness to take chances on people.

All in all, the symposium was very disappointing. There was no consideration given to opposing viewpoints, and hardly any acknowledgement that they even exist. The tone on the panels and in the audience was anti-business.