Yesterday, a group of restaurateurs met at City Hall to present to much of the city council their fears about a $15 minimum wage raise. Four restaurant owners, in what was meant to be a simple lunchtime info session, presented a lot of their businesses' current financial information, and then said what they thought the impacts of an immediate jump to a $15 an hour wage would be on their business. Here's a few of the things they said:
• Angela Stowell of Ethan Stowell restaurants said they'd consider raising prices around 25 percent, meaning their average ticket of $94 would go up to $117, and they'd likely cut their $100,000 in annual charitable giving. • Scott France Matt Galvin of Pagliacci Pizza said they'd potentially raise prices 10–15 percent, add delivery fees of a few dollars, and consider eliminating the tip line from their receipts so diners wouldn't feel obligated to pay extra on top of higher prices. • Taylor Hoang of Phõ Cyclo said they'd likely have to lay off staff and hire more experienced staff in the future instead of the less experienced mostly immigrant staff they've been hiring. • Bret Stewart of Auntie Anne's pretzels said there wasn't much he could do to change the predetermined business model of his franchise restaurants, but he would have to reanalyze his staffing models.
You can find copies of all of their presentations as links at the meeting agenda here, and I've embedded a video of the meeting above if you have almost two hours to kill.
But they were all answering a version of the question "What would happen specifically to your business if minimum wage raised to $15 immediately?"
Which is odd, because that's not a policy that's really being debated.
I guess if they all considered themselves "big businesses" they could argue that they're facing a potential fast wage raise, since Council Member Kshama Sawant hasn't said what she believes the cutoff should be in her proposal that big businesses pay $15 in January, 2015, while smaller businesses and nonprofits get a three-year phase-in. But whenever she's talked about "big business," she talks about enormous national and international brands like McDonald's and Target—people who are never gonna show up to that little table in council chamber. (Sure, they might be part of lobbying organizations that are helping small businesses be the face of opposition to the $15 wage, but they're not gonna show their own corporate faces.) So the most radical bargaining position right now has already compromised on a phase-in.
These business owners pretty much all agreed that the minimum wage proposal they'd prefer would include (1) total compensation (2) a phase-in and (3) youth or training wages. Which is fine, that's their position, and they were friendly and joking and silly, even as Council Member Sawant came off as a bit severe. But the crowd at the lunchtime forum was heavily weighted in the restaurant owners' favor—which ended up veering into a bit of ugliness. By the end of the meeting, audience members were heckling Sawant; at one point a group of about half dozen got up and stormed out of the council chamber.
Pete Hanning, who among other pursuits owns the Red Door in Fremont, was one of the people who stepped out, though he didn't storm off. He told me he just needed to "cool down for a second" after listening to Sawant, saying that she was being "preachy" instead of listening and was ignoring the complexity of the minimum-wage argument. "A higher minimum wage, for sure, is a goal," he said. "Income inequality is something we need to address." But he finds the current debate frustrating, calling 15 Now "shrill kids throwing a tantrum in the corner." He says he'd rather see the state address the minimum wage than the city, and says that an overhaul of the tax system, including an income tax, is a better way to address income inequality.
He wasn't alone; lots of people were yelling from the audience and cheering the best lines from the restaurateurs. When Stewart from Annie's described the job of his pretzel makers and then said, "I'm just not sure that's a $30,000 a year job," the room was a chorus of cheers. What he was saying was clear: He genuinely doesn't believe that some of his employees deserve a $15 wage. Which, for god's sake, is at least honest, instead of all this concern-trolling about the disappearance of tips. That's a position that some people hold, and if that's where they're coming from, please just say it out loud.
But the anti–15 Now crowd's growing frustration was really interesting. At the table were a host of council members, only one of which they seemed to have a problem with. The only speakers were four restaurant owners who all wholeheartedly agreed on a basic platform of how the business side sees the potential minimum-wage raise. The presentation went so long that the public comment portion, which would've included at least a couple low-wage workers who signed up to testify, got canceled. So in a chamber filled with people on their side, the one person with a microphone who they disagreed with sent the room into a tizzy.
It was surely indicative of the hair-trigger emotions this issue is launching all over the city. And it's sure as hell not the most productive way to go.