Signs like this went up at all the Cherry Street Coffee locations last week—click to enlarge.
We received a tip this afternoon from a reader who noticed that Cherry Street Coffee, which has seven locations in and around downtown Seattle, has just put up shiny new signs at all their registers alerting customers to a new "Sick Leave Surcharge" of 1.5 percent on every order.
The sign reads: "Sick Leave Surcharge: To help offset the costs of the City of Seattle's paid sick leave policy we are adding a 1.5% surcharge to all orders. We appreciate your understanding and continued patronage."
If you'll recall, on September 1, 2012, Seattle's new paid sick and safe time law went into effect, mandating that all Seattle employees receive paid sick leave. As Cienna reported at the time, the law was in part aimed at food-service workers, who often don't get sick leave and who, for the love of God, should not be serving you food or brewing your coffee while they are sneezing or barfing (or even just feeling a touch sneezy or barfy).
Says Slog Tipper Whitney: "There were many ways [Cherry Street Coffee owner Ali Ghambari] could have dealt with this. He could have upped prices slightly to compensate, for example." But instead, says Whitney, "he chose to call himself out as a royal dickhead for life, because now we all know he wasn't paying for sick leave before forced to by law."
I called Ghambari to see if he agreed with that assessment. Incidentally, he says on his website that "Cherry Street is all about building love and community." Ghambari confirms that he's the author of the signs, which went up at all the cash registers last week. "Obviously, this is something we never had in our budget," he says. "We never had sick leave before." He says offering sick leave will cost him "$25,000 to $30,000 a year, easy," for his 45-plus employees.
"My employees know, hey, you're gonna get 40 hours time off for sick leave," he says. "Even if you are not sick, you'll get that paid to you anyway." Under the new law, for a business his size, 40 hours of accrued sick time can be rolled over from one year to the next. "If one of my employees is not sick for the whole year," he says, "all of a sudden next year, you've got 80 hours... I don't want my employees calling in sick when they're not sick to get a day off." I asked him how the rollover of sick leave would cause his employees to be dishonest. He did not have an answer. "It's not about dishonesty," he says. "I'm not driving a Mercedes, I'm actively working my business. I feel pretty comfy with [this decision]. If some people don't feel good about it, bring it on, we'll talk about it." But so far, he says, "We haven't gotten any comments about it."
But when I called various Cherry Street Coffee locations, while no one would speak on the record, it sounds like customers have indeed complained about the signs.
"I, for one, will not be supporting this asshole any further," says Slog Tipper Whitney.