Seattle’s $15 minimum wage: Buyer’s remorse before the sale

Even as it was being announced and celebrated by some members of his income inequality committee, the political leaders acknowledged the Seattle mayor’s $15 minimum wage proposal would undergo tweaking before it was adopted by the city council. Remember Councilmember Nick Licata’s comments about legislators liking to get their “fingerprints” on such things.

There’s been a lot of talk the last few days about how the mayor’s plan, a work in progress, may be coming apart. Crosscut offers one perspective.

Councilmember Sally Clark, who chairs the Committee on Minimum Wage and Income Inequality, sought to play down suggestions that the mayor’s compromise is unraveling. Council’s questions and exploration of changes to his suggested legislation are a normal part of the process. “This is what we get paid to do,” Clark said. But, as Publicola reports, labor leaders are already troubled by the possibility of a two-tiered payment system where businesses get to pay lower wages to teenagers and some trainees. If that’s going to happen, labor leaders want the council to compensate by introducing alternative, worker-friendly changes to the mayor’s plan. 

Labor’s pains are also examined by the AP. Union reps on the mayor’s committee, responding to a document prepared by city staff that appeared too friendly to business, sent a letter to the city council.

But now, business groups are pushing for a training wage, a longer phase-in for nonprofits of any size, and no minimum-wage increase for employers with less than 10 employees. Their proposals were expressed in a letter prepared by City Council staff.

Even sympathetic business owners are rethinking their positions, as KUOW reports. (The story is well worth a listen.)

Jody Hall owns Cupcake Royale, a collection of seven neighborhood coffee shops that sell artisan cupcakes and ice cream. She employs about 100 people…

…after publicly endorsing [the mayor’s] efforts, she is having serious second thoughts. “I really have a hard time,” Hall said. “Even though I signed support for a seven-year phase in with the mayor, this is keeping me up at night like nothing ever has.”

Well, as Forbes reports, people support raising the minimum wage until told the costs.

The polls show most people support raising the minimum wage when it is presented as a free lunch, with no downside. Once people make the link between the benefit (higher pay for some) and the cost (fewer jobs, higher prices) the level of support shrinks to a clear minority. 

Don’t believe the polls? How about this anecdote from SeaTac, which just bumped the minimum to $15? Assunta Ng, publisher of Northwest Asian Weekly, recounts a couple of conversation she had with SeaTac restaurant workers. It’s a brief story, please read it. Here’s a snippet.

“Are you happy with the $15 wage?” I asked the full-time cleaning lady.

“It sounds good, but it’s not good,” the woman said.

“Why?” I asked.

“I lost my 401k, health insurance, paid holiday, and vacation,” she responded. “No more free food,” she added.

The hotel used to feed her. Now, she has to bring her own food. Also, no overtime, she said. She used to work extra hours and received overtime pay.

The consequences don’t take long to show up. No wonder some supporters of the $15 minimum wage are showing signs of buyer’s remorse. Better now than after the deal is sealed.