Seattle Business Owners: $15 Minimum Wage Could Prove 'Possibly Fatal'

Feb 27, 2014

Seattle businesses are increasingly voicing concerns over the possibility of the city hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour. On Thursday they brought those concerns to a mayor-appointed committee tasked with evaluating whether such a high minimum wage makes sense.

At $9.32 per hour, Washington state already has the highest minimum wage in the country, and $15 an hour represents a 60 percent increase.

“That kind of an immediate jump would have critical — and I don’t think it’s overly dramatic to say possibly fatal — consequences for our business,” said Peter Aaron, who owns Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

A Raise For Those Who Make $15 Now?

Aaron says he’s of two minds. On one hand, he thinks everyone in the country should be able to make a living wage.

But he says his business just managed to eke out a real profit last year for the first time in 15 years. To keep profits at that level with a minimum wage of $15 an hour, he’d have to let five of his 28 employees go. And he has to think about keeping an equitable pay scale for his workers who have been there a while and make more than minimum wage.

“What do you do with people who are now making $13, $14, $15 an hour who have put in years of service and qualifications, and all of a sudden they’re making the same as an entry-level worker? Well, that’s not fair,” he said.

Labor 'Alone Will Make Or Break A Business'

Freddy Rivas, Jr. owns Rancho Bravo Tacos and several other restaurants in Seattle. He says he’d like to open more locations, but if the minimum wage goes up to $15 an hour, he won’t be able to open them in Seattle.

“Labor is such a huge part of our operating costs. It’s huge,” Rivas said. “That alone will make or break a business."

Rivas says his workers start at $9.50 an hour plus tips, but he bumps them up to $10 after two weeks. He says the current minimum wage is the right level, but he says he supports regulations that would guarantee raises for workers so they’re not stuck at minimum wage for a long time.

Aaron, on the other hand, says he supports a higher minimum wage, but he’s not sure what the right rate is. And he wants it to be raised in a way that doesn’t result in job losses.

'People Need Money Now'

Nathan Jackson with the union-backed worker advocacy group Working Washington says his group is supportive of the committee's work and is hopeful that it will find a way to achieve a $15/hour minimum wage as quickly as possible. But he says a phased-in approach that takes years and years is not desirable.

“People need money now. The rent is due now. People’s bills are due now. So definitely we don’t want to sit and wait around for years and years, and years for people to be able to make enough money to make ends meet,” Jackson said.

Jackson says he understands that businesses like Elliott Bay Book Company have concerns. But he says if people make more money, they’ll have more to spend, including on books.

The mayor’s committee is expected to make recommendations by the end of April.