$15 Minimum Wage Forum Draws Heated Arguments On Both Sides

Mar 6, 2014

Business owners, union members, restaurant employees and activists each got two minutes Wednesday night to say their piece about a higher minimum wage in Seattle. The city council and a committee appointed by Mayor Ed Murray held the forum as they weigh possibly hiking the wage floor to $15 an hour. 

Inside Town Hall, everywhere you looked people were wearing red shirts that said things like “Because the rent won’t wait” or simply, "15." Robby Stern, one of the folks in a red shirt, said he was involved in getting a state initiative passed in 1998 to lift the minimum wage and index it to inflation.

"We were told that businesses would go out of business, that people would lose jobs, that all of these bad things would happen and now we’ve learned that not only did that not happen, but it was good for the state," Stern said. 

A recent Bloomberg News story said the state’s job growth has outpaced the nation since the minimum wage initiative passed, and Washington’s had a lower poverty rate than the U.S. for at least seven years.

Dick's Drive-In

But business owners shared their concerns about hiking the minimum wage 60 percent in one fell swoop. Jasmine Donovan is the granddaughter of Dick Spady, founder of the Dick’s Drive-In burger chain.

"Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would increase just our labor costs by $1.5 million," Donovan said. "Raising prices would have to be our first response."

She also said the company likely would have to scale back employee benefits. Dick’s Drive-In right now pays 100 percent of employees’ health insurance if they work 24 hours a week or more.

But day care owner Kathy Yasi voiced her support.

`I'll figure it out'

"Some people have asked me, how will I cover the cost of the increase in wages for our teachers?" Yasi said. "Running Adventure Day Care certainly has not made me a millionaire by any stretch of the imagination, but I tell you what, I'll figure it out."

Yasi says raising the minimum wage would decrease worker turnover, providing more stability for kids in her day care. She says right now her highest paid employee makes $13 an hour and her lowest paid makes $10 an hour. 

The mayor’s income inequality advisory committee plans to make recommendations by the end of April.