Read Slog's comment threads or the op/ed page of the Seattle Times (pretty much the same level of trollery) and you might think that a $15 minimum wage is CRAZY TALK—the idiotic far-fringe ramblings of commies, morons, and Aztlán revolutionaries. Anybody who knows anything about economics, the critics argue, knows that a $15 minimum wage would be a job-killing/small-business-destroying disaster.
But if a $15 minimum wage is as far outside the mainstream of economic and political thought as its critics imply, you wouldn't know it from the official reception pro-$15 marchers received on the steps of Seattle City Hall yesterday. I saw at least five of the nine council members who will vote on a proposed ordinance greet marchers at the end of their 15-mile trek from SeaTac—Mike O'Brien, Nick Licata, Sally Bagshaw, Jean Godden, and of course Kshama Sawant. And Bagshaw and Godden went so far as to show their support by serving the marchers coffee.
Bagshaw and Godden are hardly radicals.
The fact is there's nothing radical about suggesting that the minimum wage should be higher in Seattle than it is in much of the rest of the state. Nearly everything is more expensive in Seattle—housing especially—and minimum wage workers here simply need higher pay than their counterparts in, say, Yakima or Ferry counties. Whether that number should be $12 or $15 or $20, well, that boat has already sailed. By refusing to participate honestly in this debate opponents have passed up the opportunity to participate in calculating the proper number. So $15 it is, and the majority of council members seem comfortable with that.
Turns out, it's the Seattle Times editorial board that is far outside of Seattle's political mainstream, not the $15 minimum wage advocates. So if the editors want to remain relevant in this debate it is time for them to stop simply dissing the proposal, and to start suggesting ways to make it better. There is room for compromise in terms of the length of time it takes to phase in a $15 an hour wage, the types of businesses that might be exempted, and whether or not to include a tip credit, for example.
But to flat out argue against a $15 minimum wage in Seattle isn't just a losing argument, it's an argument that has already lost.
Yup, it's cold outside, but that has not stopped dozens of people from marching 15 miles from SeaTac to Seattle in support of a $15 an hour minimum wage. The marchers just recently reached Seattle city limits, where they were met with the following greeting:
Guy watching us #OnTheMarch up
MLK has a sign with a simple message: “Thank you!”
— Good Jobs Seattle (@GoodJobsSeattle) December 5, 2013
Meanwhile Seattle City Council member Jean Godden took to Twitter to remind voters that in addition to all its other benefits, "raising the minimum wage will help narrow the gender pay gap." Because a majority of minimum wage workers are women. (And disproportionately people of color, too.)
While fast food workers are striking in 100 US cities today, Seattle is already moving on to the next stage of the next battleground in the war to win workers a living wage: City Hall. Low wage workers set off this morning from SeaTac—were voters recently approved a $15 an hour minimum wage for airport and hospitality workers—on a 15-mile march to Seattle City Hall to demand the same for Seattle's low-wage workers:
- 9:00 - brief program at SeaTac Hilton Conference Center, 17620 International Blvd, SeaTac
- 9:30 - march departs, heading north on International Blvd
- 10:30 - marchers pass Abu Bakr Mosque, 14101 International Blvd, Tukwila
- 11:40 - marchers enter Seattle city limits (Boeing Access Rd & MLK)
- 12:00 - marchers reach MLK Way S & S Henderson St
- 1:00 - lunch en route - northwest corner of Brighton Playfield (6000 39th Ave S)
- 1:20 - march continues
- 2:30 - Marchers reach Rainier & MLK
- 4:00 - Supporters gathered at Hing Hay Park (423 Maynard Ave S) join march at Jackson & Maynard
- 4:30 - Rally at City Hall (600 4th Ave)
And if $15 an hour for fast food and other low-wage workers seems too ambitious a demand, well, you don't know what the fuck you're talking about. Mayor-elect Ed Murray has already committed to a $15 an hour minimum wage, as has a majority of the city council. And of course council member-elect Kshama Sawant made her campaign a virtual proxy fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage.
The political stars are aligned to deliver a $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle. How long the phase-in, and what kind of exemptions remains to be seen, but the debate has moved on from whether to impose a $15 an hour minimum and on to the question of how.
If you think that $15 an hour seems like a ginormous amount of money to pay a minimum wage worker, then think again. The era in which minimum wage jobs were largely staffed by teenagers and other first-time workers has long since passed—indeed, nearly 40 percent of all US jobs in 2012 paid less than a "living wage" of $15 an hour, up from 36.5 percent just three years earlier.
And in much of the nation, $15 isn't even a living wage. According to the 2013 Job Gap Study from the Alliance for a Just Society (pdf), a single adult in Washington State would need to earn $16.04 an hour, 40 hours a week, in order to balance the most basic household budget:
And keep in mind, those are average numbers for Washington State as a whole. According to Ben Henry at the Alliance for a Just Society, a previous study found costs in King County to be between 7 percent and 17 percent higher than statewide numbers, depending on the household type. And they are conservative numbers at that. For example, do you think you could live in Seattle spending only $6.67 a day on food? Because that's what $203 a month comes to.
It's numbers like these that illustrate the rhetorical challenge facing minimum wage opponents when they argue that businesses can't afford to pay a higher minimum wage. About two-thirds of the jobs created since the end of the Great Depression have been low-wage and/or part-time—in Washington State, there are 22 job seekers for every job opening that would pay a living wage to a one-worker, four-person household, according to the report. So to argue that employers simply can't pay a higher wage is to argue that 40 percent (and growing!) of US households must be condemned to live in poverty.
Roll your eyes at Kshama Sawant and her Socialist rhetoric all you want, but there's no arguing that our current economic system isn't broken.
After the jump, The Star-Ledger's Brian Donohue spotlights the greed behind the decisions to make low-wage retail employees go to work on a national holiday. Here's the description:
On today's Ledger Live video, we assess the battlefield in the War on Thanksgiving, identifying two of its protagonists: a New Jersey mall worker outraged over seeing his colleagues holidays ruined and the CEO with a controversial $120 million bonus whose company ordered the early Thanksgiving opening.
Go watch it.
There's a lot of static in this Public Policy Polling report from Pennsylvania. Sure, I get a little skin-crawly when I read that Chris Christie is leading Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical presidential match, but then I remember that the election is three years away, and that those numbers are entirely meaningless at this point. But then I see this sentence:
Pennsylvania voters support raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour by a 57/34 margin.
And a spread of that size seems like something that Democrats should be ready to run on during next year's midterm elections. Sure, a $10 minimum wage seems like small change compared to the $15 minimum wage that just won in SeaTac. But on a national level, where the current minimum wage is just $7.25 an hour? This is a pretty big deal. Also a big deal? The demographic spread:
80% of Democrats, 71% of independents, and 29% of Republicans favor it.
Republicans are dead-set against this idea, but independents embrace it. That's the kind of split that wins elections. The majority of voters are aware of a serious economic disparity in America and they want to fix it. Maybe, finally, these numbers will convince Democrats that it's time to stand up for the rights of the poor.
Ha Ha Fuck You: Goldy translates the Washington State Republican transportation plan to English.
Republican Woman Shocked by Republican War on Women: Susan Hutchison makes $20,000 less than her predecessor, and she's not happy about it.
Ocean's Eleven for Drunks: Who the hell stole the dollar bills off the Comet's ceiling?
Gunfight: What happens if opposing gun initiatives on the ballot in 2014 both win?
Everybody's Talking About Sawant: Goldy says a vote for Kshama Sawant was sorta a vote for socialism. He also takes a look at what's unsettling Democrats about Sawant. Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias is hell-bent on letting you know he's not as liberal as Sawant is. And finally, KING 5's Linda Brill is a total fucking idiot.
What Have Unions Ever Done for Them? The Seattle Times editorial board seems to hate unions.
Score One for Pedestrians! The Northgate pedestrian/bike bridge is back in the budget.
"I Can't Even Describe the Sorrow and Futility" What it was like when JFK was assassinated.
Bloomberg: Rich People Are More Interesting Than Theater! They fired a theater critic and are focusing on "luxury" instead.
This Painting Is About Love: There's a very good discussion in the comments on Jen Graves's post about a new way of labeling art.
Selfies! Because Internet: Our language is changing a lot.
And Now, Some Overdramatic Christian Heartbreak:
In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, San Francisco International Airport director John L. Martin seeks to calm fears about impact of SeaTac Prop 1, by pointing out what an "overwhelming success" SFO's own minimum wage ordinance has been:
Under the airport’s Quality Standards Program, which began in 2000, all employees at the airport who perform safety and security functions are paid $12.93 per hour, have 12 paid days and 10 unpaid days off per year and have full health coverage, provided by their employers. This group of employees includes airline ground workers, baggage handlers, service providers such as wheelchair operators and ramp workers.
Airport safety is not well served when exhausted employees have to work two jobs just to make ends meet.
The program’s success rate can be measured by the extraordinarily high retention rate of our employees. A living wage means a fighting chance.
Omigod! Higher pay helps you attract and retain higher quality workers! Who'da thunk? (Certainly not corporate executives who justify their high pay and bonuses by arguing it's the only way to attract and retain quality executives.)
I know that the cold heart of capitalism insists that Boeing owes this region and its workers here absolutely nothing, but since the dawn of the commercial jet age, this is what the Puget Sound's unionized workforce has managed to produce for Boeing:
That's 15,443 commercial jetliners profitably produced right here in the Puget Sound. By comparison, despite Boeing's huge investment in building facilities and training workers, its non-union Charleston, South Carolina manufacturing plant has only managed to assemble 15 787s, far short of projections.
But you know, it's Boeing's executives who deserve all the credit for the company's success, and all the reward.
The Seattle Times editorial board concern-trolls Mayor Mike McGinn:
MAYOR Mike McGinn should rescind his executive order to Seattle child-care providers to meet with union leaders or lose city funding. The mayor should consider whether he wants to squander his remaining time in office on impractical and, in this case, possibly illegal policies.
[...] McGinn’s claim to be interested only in improving preschool teacher quality is undercut by his directive’s interesting timing. As noted by Times reporter Lynn Thompson, McGinn issued the order in the middle of his tough re-election campaign against state Sen. Ed Murray. McGinn lost, but was endorsed by SEIU and the federation.
I could easily spend a thousand words thoroughly fisking this stunningly unselfconscious piece of anti-labor bullshit, but instead I'll just resort to a handful of bullet points. I mean, why put any more effort into this than they did?
Community and labor organizations are rallying in support of Boeing Machinists today, 4 p.m., at Seattle's Westlake Park. Show your solidarity with the best aerospace workforce in the world as they battle with management a dignified contract extension that would keep 777X production in the Puget Sound Region. Come show your solidarity!
Among today's speakers will be Seattle City Council member-elect Kshama Sawant, giving our capitalist masters hell, no doubt!
A Slog reader and soon to be unemployed 26-year Boeing worker points out via email that the profit-laden aerospace giant is already pulling jobs out of the Puget Sound region:
The big uproar was "give Boeing money or we'll lose jobs in Washington!" What I haven't seen is any mention that Boeing is eliminating jobs RIGHT NOW. Between 3 and 10% of the engineering groups are getting laid off RIGHT NOW, but I haven't seen anything about it in the media.
They say that a recession is when your neighbor loses his job, and a depression is when you lose your job. I'm now depressed, as I'll be out of work in mid December. The (only) highlight of me losing my job is seeing the reaction on people's faces when I tell them that I'm being laid off at Boeing after working there for twenty six years. Usually the reaction is dismay, with a "those Bastards!" quickly following.
So Boeing is shedding jobs today, but nobody is talking about it.
Thanks for the attention.
Governor Jay Inslee recently called an emergency special session to hand Boeing $8.7 billion in tax breaks, but that won't stop Boeing from laying off workers like Webb, just before the holidays. Because who needs engineers, right? They're just airplanes.
FYI, if you want to show your solidarity with Boeing Workers, there's a 4 p.m. Community & Labor Rally today Seattle's Westlake Park.
I wouldn't want to fly on an airplane built by a disgruntled workforce, let alone buy one, would you? And given the endless delays and production problems wrought on the 787 program through Boeing's ill-fated union-busting outsourcing scheme, it's hard to imagine an airline or leasing company making long-term business plans around on-time delivery of a 777X built by an inexperienced, low-wage workforce in South Carolina or Alabama.
That is just part of the dilemma facing Boeing executives as they weigh the risks of divorcing themselves from the most skilled and productive aerospace workforce in the world, both at its own Puget Sound facilities and at the supporting businesses that have grown up around them. Having already damaged its reputation with the 787 debacle, Boeing will have a harder time coaxing airlines to jump to the front of the line with billions of dollars of orders for a non-Puget-Sound-built 777X that may miss its delivery date by a year or three (and then occasionally catch fire once they're in service).
How many orders would mere uncertainty lose Boeing to Airbus and other competitors? How much of an extra discount will Boeing need to offer customers in order to allay their well-founded fears that an all new aircraft built by an all new workforce at an all new facility may run far behind schedule and way below the quality standards set by unionized Machinists? Is it even possible to quantify the blow to Boeing's long-term prospects should the 777X prove a repeat (or worse) of the 787 debacle?
These are questions Boeing will presumably ask itself before deciding where to site 777X production. And if executives answer these questions honestly, the rational choice is Everett. If Boeing is acting rationally, this threat to move production out of state is just that—a threat. A rational Boeing would ultimately come back to the bargaining table and negotiate labor peace with the Machinists (that's what it really needs—a long-term contract that precludes the threat of a strike) that would keep production in the region. A rational Boeing knows that the advantages offered by other sites simply cannot offset the investment in human and physical infrastructure it has already made here.
The problem is, there is no guarantee that Boeing will act rationally. That is one of the major myths about our capitalist system: that given timely and accurate information, participants will pursue their own rational self-interest. But they don't always. Because they're human.
Boeing's own analysis, revealed in subpoenaed documents, determined that moving the second 787 assembly line to South Carolina would introduce further production delays, dilute workforce skills, and result in a "negative impact to 787 program profitability"—specifically, $1.5 billion in additional costs up front, plus reduced earnings on one-third of the 787 backlog, according to Boeing's own internal numbers.
Yet they moved the line there anyway, because the goal was never as much to speed up production and improve profitability as it was to "create long-term change in union leverage." Right at the top of a document dated April 27, 2009, Boeing clearly states its strategy and purpose: "Establishing long-term manufacturing capability outside of the Puget Sound, starting with a second 787 final assembly line and progressing to the next new airplane program."
Turns out management far underestimated the negative impact. Good thing for Boeing that Everett's unionized Machinists were there to pick up the slack.
And now Boeing wants to repeat this debacle with an all new 777X? Maybe.
And maybe once Boeing abandons this region, a more rational Airbus will swoop in to capitalize on the human capital Boeing leaves behind? After all, if Airbus can currently out-compete Boeing with aircraft built by benefit-pampered French workers, just imagine what Airbus could do with the best aerospace workforce in the world.
It's sad, really, that perhaps the best newspaper journalist in Seattle doesn't write for a Seattle newspaper. Timothy Egan on Boeing in the New York Times:
This is how the middle class dies, not with a bang, but a forced squeeze. After a global corporation posts record profits, it asks the state that has long nurtured its growth for the nation’s biggest single tax break, and then tells the people who make its products that their pension plan will be frozen, their benefits slashed, their pay raises meager. Take it or we leave. And everyone caves.
[...] What Boeing wants is very simple: to pay the people who make its airplanes as little money as it can get away with. It needs to do this, we’re told, to stay competitive. It has all the leverage, because enough states — and countries — are willing to give it everything it asks for. Who wouldn’t want a gleaming factory stuffed with jet assemblers, a payroll guaranteed for a generation?
Boeing is on a roll, its stock at a record high despite the troubled rollout of its 787 Dreamliner, and the pay of its C.E.O. boosted 20 percent to a package totaling $27.5 million last year. It is not impelled, as the auto industry was five years ago, in the midst of bailouts and cutbacks. Boeing could afford to be generous, or at least not onerous. But it’s easier to play state against state, the race to the bottom.
Union members need to understand where management is coming from. To Boeing, the decision about where to build the 777X is about how to price the airplane today for delivery in the early 2020s. The company has to figure out how much it can charge for a 777X and how much it must pay to get it built. Boeing’s offer to the Machinists was aimed to fix a price.
By saying “no,” the union has set a higher price for building the airplane in Washington.
Is all lost for building the 777X in Everett? That’s unclear. But if District 751 wants to build that plane here, the union — leadership and rank and file together — should make the next overture to Boeing, and soon.
Yup. This is all the Machinists fault. And they're getting what they deserve. Or something.
On every count, both the opinion and the prose, this editorial is a disgrace.
I've already thoroughly fisked Seattle Times editorial columnist Sharon Pian Chan's earlier post on the topic, and this anti-$15 minimum wage column is mostly a retread. But Pian Chan does give us one revealing new tidbit of inadvertent honesty:
Please let this discussion die a Seattle death by committee.
As I'd previously explained, when the Seattle Times editorial board argued that "Seattle leaders ... should watch what happens in SeaTac" rather than "act quickly to follow suit," what they were really advocating was an effort to slow down the minimum wage debate long enough to kill it. It was a close reading that Pian Chan now confirms.
Kshama Sawant's surprisingly strong support was as close to a proxy vote on the $15 minimum wage as we could get in Seattle without actually putting a measure on the ballot. The proposal has momentum. And it has the public endorsement of a majority of council members and our newly elected mayor. The time to act is now.
Governor Jay Inslee (along with, no doubt, the bulk of our state's political and business establishment) was disappointed that the Machinists union rejected Boeing's draconian contract offer:
"The fact is we could have won this tonight without any competition. That didn’t happen," Inslee said.
The fact that to "win" the 777X assembly without competition would have required the Machinists to sell out younger and future members, doesn't seem to matter to those bemoaning the IAM vote. Machinists were being asked to give up their pensions, to accept higher health care costs, to agree to a 1 percent raise every other year, and to force new workers to move up the pay scale slower. Oh... and they were being asked to surrender the right to strike over the next decade.
Meanwhile, the highly profitable Boeing would get $8.7 billion worth of tax breaks in return. It's as if having the most highly skilled and productive aerospace workforce in the world just isn't worth anything to Boeing at the bargaining table.
Later today we'll get to read the inevitable Seattle Times editorial blasting the Machinists union for potentially costing the region thousands of manufacturing jobs... as if these jobs belong to the region and not to the actual Machinists working them. It's a weird argument—pitting jobs versus workers—but one which permeates all aspects of the political debate, from the minimum wage to Obamacare.
“Corporations are people, my friend,” Mitt Romney was famously blurted. Well, oddly enough, so are workers.
In demanding an eight-year contract (Boeing calls it an "extension," but it's not an extension) that would have essentially frozen pay while slashing health care benefits and eliminating pensions, Boeing had essentially asked the International Association of Machinists Local 751 to commit suicide. Tonight, by a two to one vote, the rank and file Machinists told Boeing to go fuck itself:
“Today, the democratic process worked and our members made the decision to not accept the company’s proposal. It is my belief that we represent the best aerospace workforce in the world and hope that as a result of this vote Boeing will not discard our skills when looking to place the 777X.
“We preserved something sacred by rejecting the Boeing proposal. We’ve held on to our pensions and that’s big. At a time when financial planners are talking about a ‘retirement crisis’ in America, we have preserved a tool that will help our members retire with more comfort and dignity."
Boeing claims that despite its huge sunken investment in manufacturing facilities here, and the Puget Sound's highly skilled workforce, it has "no choice" but to look elsewhere to build the 777X. What a crock of shit. If Boeing was serious about building planes here it would have negotiated a compromise extension instead of demanding an unconditional surrender from the IAM.
This is about breaking the unions, and nothing else. Fuck Boeing.
Support is growing rapidly for raising the minimum wage:
With momentum building at the federal and state level to increase hourly base pay, more than three-quarters of Americans (76%) say they would vote for raising the minimum wage to $9 per hour (it is currently $7.25) in a hypothetical national referendum, a five-percentage-point increase since March. About one-fifth (22%) would vote against this.
The editors of the Seattle Times urge us to go slow on the $15 an hour minimum wage:
Voters in the city of SeaTac appear to have volunteered for an experiment with a $15 an hour minimum wage. Before Seattle leaders act quickly to follow suit, they should watch what happens in SeaTac.
Sounds like reasonable advice, right? We should wait to see how things play out in SeaTac before attempting to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage here. "That means limiting the $15 minimum wage to SeaTac for the next year or two," advises the editors. You know, until after the $15 minimum wage momentum has blown over.
And that's really what this editorial is arguing for: Slowing down the process long enough to kill it. That's the best political strategy available to the chamber of commerce crowd. They want to slowly entangle the living wage in the sticky strands of "the Seattle way," and then suck the life from it. And Frank Blethen's gang is only too happy to start spinning the web.
Don't fall for it. Ed Murray ran on the promise of pushing a $15 minimum wage through the council; indeed, he won some major union endorsements just because of it. And Kshama Sawant's election was as close to a proxy vote on the minimum wage as we could get. The moment is now for Seattle to lead the nation forward on the living wage issue, and any argument to delay the $15 wage is a naked effort to defeat it.
One way or another we are going to pass a $15 minimum wage in Seattle in 2014. And then it will be up to the rest of the nation whether to ride our wave or watch and wait.
It has been less than 24 hours since SeaTac's job-killing Proposition 1 passed by a comfortable margin, and according to a news release issued today from the Port of the Seattle, the $15 an hour minimum wage is already wreaking havoc on airport businesses. Or something:
Sea-Tac Airport Welcomes The Wishing Stone
The Wishing Stone, a locally-owned store featuring artisan-made jewelry and gifts inspired by nature, is the newest addition to concourse C at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
“We’re thrilled to serve the traveling public and to supply passengers with a memory of the Pacific Northwest to bring home,” said owner Janet Yoshikawa.
It's exactly what Seattle Times editorial columnist Sharon Pian Chan feared: Thanks to the higher minimum wage, Asian-owned small businesses are being forced to shut down throughout the airport! Or, the exact opposite!
In a final parting shot at SeaTac Proposition 1, the Seattle Times' Jonathan Martin repeats a familiar No campaign talking point:
Tucked into the SeaTac $15 minimum wage ordinance is a big exemption to the landmark proposal.
In the Waivers section of the proposed ordinance, available on the City of SeaTac website, Proposition 1 gives employers a break from the minimum wage, the paid sick days and other employee protections – as long as the business is unionized.
Except, no, that's not what the Waivers section says. Being unionized does not automatically give employers a break from Proposition 1's provisions, as Martin's summary of it implies.
Proposition 1 allows unions to agree to waive its provisions "in a bona fide collective bargaining agreement." Big difference. And it makes sense. Seattle's paid sick leave ordinance includes a similar provision. Unions often negotiate pay and benefits against each other, for example, lower pay raises in exchange for higher healthcare benefits, or vice versa. Proposition 1 merely allows unions (and unionized employers) to retain such negotiating flexibility. But whatever the mix, a union would be crazy to negotiate a smaller total compensation package than the floor mandated by Proposition 1.
Does the union waiver in Prop. 1 make you more or less likely to vote for it?
Hey, way to turn your op-ed page into a push-poll.
But regardless, the entire premise of this attack is bizarre: That it's somehow unseemly for unions to contribute money to an initiative that might benefit unions. Well, duh-uh. I don't see the editorial page expressing outrage at the airline, hotel, and restaurant industries investing money in the No campaign in a blatant effort to preserve their profit margins. Because that's how politics works.
I'm a little reluctant to smack down Seattle Times editorial columnist Sharon Pian Chan once again, because given how brazenly deceptive she's proven, at this point I'm not even confident that's her real name.
Following my meticulous line-by-line fisking of the unsupported assertions in her ridiculous "a $15 minimum wage would devastate immigrant businesses" screed, you'd think she might slink away and hang her head in shame. But no. For that would require the ability to either A) understand my critique, or B) feel shame. Instead Pian Chan chooses to double-down on her bullshit by following up her bogus economic claims with a single anecdotal example:
A war is being waged in SeaTac over the minimum wage. ... I argued in a Wednesday blog post that it would devastate immigrant-owned businesses. (Our editorial board has also recommended a no vote in an editorial.)
James Shin is one of those immigrants. Shin, 64, owns the Quality Inn SeaTac. In 2011, he used his life savings to buy the 104-room hotel, and he would be required to pay his workers $15 an hour if Proposition 1 passes. It would, in fact, be a crippling financial blow to Shin.
[...] Shin’s largest expense is labor. He’s done the math. If Proposition 1 passes, he says, “I have to file bankruptcy. It doesn’t make any sense.
No, it doesn't make any sense. Because due to its relatively small size, Shin's Quality Inn SeaTac would be exempt from Proposition 1.
SeaTac's Proposition 1 only applies to hotels and motels with 100 or more rooms and 30 or more non-managerial employees. Pian Chan's latest post claims that the Quality Inn has 104 rooms, but when a representative from the Yes campaign inquired about booking the entire hotel, they say they were told that there are only 82 rooms in service. But more definitively, Shin's own filing with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (doing business as JP & J, INC.) states that the Quality Inn only employs "11 to 20 Workers."*
So I don't know what kind of math Shin allegedly did, but Pian Chan obviously didn't bother to do any. I mean, who needs to double check your facts when you've got the Seattle Times banner lending you instant credibility? Because journalism!
"Shin spent two decades working seven days a week from dawn until night," Pian Chan bleats sympathetically. "He saved up his money and put it into businesses he hoped would sustain him and his family. And SeaTac voters are about to light a bomb over his head." Except they're not. Because the initiative was written to specifically exempt small business owners like Shin, regardless of how many times the lying liars at the Seattle Times falsely insist otherwise.
How fucking embarrassing.
* (While I was writing my post, Pian Chan finally added an update to her's acknowledging that the Quality Inn has fewer than 30 employees, but incredibly insisting that it would still be subject to Prop. 1 "because Shin was planning to increase his staff to 30 in 2014." Because struggling businesses routinely double their workforce. Clearly, Pian Chan thinks her readers are stupid. Either way, she obviously never bothered to verify Shin's easily verifiable claims before appending her byline to them.)
One of the warnings we keep hearing from the serious people who know better than common folks like us, is that SeaTac's $15 an hour minimum wage initiative would have unintended consequences, driving some small businesses out of business, and costing some low-wage workers their jobs. Maybe. Most policies have winners and losers.
But you know what else is an unintended consequence? The $15 minimum wage initiative!
For years, underpaid airport workers—outsourced from their living wage jobs and then rehired back by contractors at minimum wage with few benefits—have been protesting their working conditions without a drop of empathy being shown by our business and media elite. These workers demonstrated and marched, trying to apply pressure to profitable Alaska Airlines, and our editorialists looked the other way. They pleaded for help from the Port of Seattle and other elected bodies, and our elected officials told them there was nothing they could do. They tried to organize labor unions, but the airlines' contracting scheme was devised in such a way as to make organizing virtually impossible.
And so these low-wage workers, struggling to raise their families in dignity while performing crucial jobs like fueling and cleaning airliners, decided to go directly to the people. That's what this initiative and the entire $15 an hour minimum wage movement is born out of: The refusal of the serious people to take the suffering of working people seriously.
Yes, initiatives are an imperfect tool for writing and passing complex law. And yes, wage floors can have unintended consequences (although the empirical evidence suggests that the social and economic benefits far outweigh the costs). But with the powers that be turning a collective blind eye, what else are these workers supposed to do?
So the editorialists can fret all they want about the impact this initiative might have on the downtrodden owners of capital, some of whom "used to be poor," the Seattle Times' Sharon Pian Chan cries out in anguish. (In fact, the Quality Inn SeaTac she highlights, with fewer than 30 non-managerial employees, appears to be exempt from the initiative—not that she's ever let facts get in her way.) But if this is a crisis, this is a crisis of their own making.
The $15 an hour minimum wage movement is the unintended consequence of decades of exploitation and disrespect. And if this is the only consequence our business establishment ends up paying, I'd say they got off easy.
Clearly, I wasn't the only reader irritated by Seattle Times editorial columnist Sharon Pian Chan's fact-free commentary on SeaTac's $15 an hour minimum wage initiative. I posted my thorough smackdown yesterday. And today the Seattle Times posts a critical letter to the editor from Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment (APACE) president Benjamin Sung Henry:
I am an advocate for Pacific Islander communities and a son of an immigrant small-business owner. I disagree with Sharon Pian Chan’s commentary on SeaTac’s Proposition 1 [How a $15 minimum wage would devastate immigrant businesses,” Online, Oct. 30].
While appearing to champion the cause of immigrant small-business owners, Chan conflates the issues and ignores the fact that SeaTac’s initiative exempts some of them from the $15-an-hour wage rate. Further, grandiose claims that “a higher minimum wage would sound a death knell” lack empirical evidence. What we do know is that small businesses in other airport cities (L.A., San Francisco, Oakland) that have raised the minimum wage have remained strong and vibrant.
Minimum-wage workers do indeed “dream of something bigger” — but how can they possibly achieve those dreams when their realities are a never-ending struggle for basic survival? Proposition 1 gives workers a fair shot at prosperity.
Here are the facts: Raising the minimum wage in SeaTac will benefit an airport workforce that is disproportionately immigrant. It would create opportunities for workers so their children have better access to education, their families can get on the road to financial stability, they can have better health outcomes and they can afford the training and education needed for career advancement.
That is the American dream.
Benjamin Sung Henry, Beacon Hill
The paper's editorial page editors—Pian Chan and Kate Riley—made several minor and justifiable edits for the sake of readability. But one edit jumps out: In the original text of the letter (appended after the the jump) Henry describes himself as an advocate for "Asian Pacific Islander" communities, which the editors curiously truncate to just "Pacific Islander." Further, Henry was writing in his role as "President, Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment", a signature the editors changed to "Benjamin Sung Henry, Beacon Hill," omitting all reference to the fact that Henry was writing as an advocate for the interests of, you know, Asians. (Henry himself is the son of a Korean American immigrant mother.)
Which is weird. Because Pian Chan's commentary was largely framed as a defense of Asian immigrants, backed up by her personal experience as the daughter of Asian immigrants: "My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong in 1975," Pian Chan wrote in an effort to establish street cred on the subject. So Henry's claim to represent the Asian community as well would seem entirely relevant to his critique.
To be clear: "Asian Pacific Islander community" is the politically correct term around these parts. I can't tell you how many times I've slipped up, referring to the "Asian" community only to be politely reminded by an Asian politician or community leader that it is "Asian Pacific Islander." And a quick glance finds plenty of Asian Americans on the APACE board. So to edit Henry's letter as to leave the false impression that he only advocates on behalf of "Pacific Islanders," well, that's not just misleading, it's insulting.
Likewise, the editor's refusal to acknowledge Henry's title and organization in his signature seems totally arbitrary. Yes, the usual format in their letters to the editor is to list the author's name and neighborhood, but that's not a hard and fast rule. So why don't Henry and APACE deserve the same consideration the page showed, say, "Isiaah Crawford, Ph.D., Provost, Seattle University," in his October 20 letter appropriately credited as such?
Again, weird. It's almost as if the Seattle Times editorial page believes itself to be the arbiter of who can legitimately speak on behalf of Asian Americans.
This Sunday at the Vermillion Gallery, I will deliver my third and penultimate talk on the nature, character, and future of a kind of subjectivity that I call inhabitant. The first talk involved the economic developments that led to this kind of subjectivity, with an important detour into MLK's "bad check"; the second, which occurred at the Savvy Gallery in Berlin, concerned System D, the inhabitant's most immediate answer to the current state-supported capitalist order. The third talk will be about the body of the inhabitant and try to locate the source of its politics, which is often not, as my Berlin talk pointed out, legitimated or guaranteed by the state. What are the claims of the inhabitant's body? Can they be found in the stomach, eyes, or head? The end of this talk, which concerns the deep social history of communal murders (another important detour), will draw heavily from the middle of one I delivered at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin in early October.
After my talk, M. Washington, one of the rappers in Black Stax, will provide a supper, and Bruce Pavitt, one of the founders of Sub Pop, will select music.
Seattle Times editorial columnist Sharon Pian Chan thinks that people like me who support a $15 an hour minimum wage are the worst racists ever:
Raising the minimum wage to this level would be devastating to immigrant-owned small businesses.
Yup, I support a $15 an hour minimum wage because I hate immigrants!
Hey, way to lead off a column ostensibly about economic policy by throwing down the race card, Sharon. But then, as the daughter of immigrants—which gives you street cred on this, right?—you probably guessed that a middle-aged white guy like me wouldn't dare go there. Well guess again! In fact, since you only mention "immigrant" small business owners—specifically "South Asian Americans"—my question for you is this: Why do you hate white people? And black people? And, basically, all people who aren't South Asian? I mean, don't Jews like me have as much right to exploit low-wage South Asian immigrant workers as South Asian immigrant business owners do? You don't have something against the Jews, Sharon, do you?
Oh. I'm sorry. Did I cross some kind of a line there? Did I lead with race in an emotionally charged way that would inevitably distract from any effort to hold a reasoned economic discussion? Exactly.
For Pian Chan's manipulative resort to identity politics is little more than a naked attempt to deflect attention away from the real struggle at the heart of the minimum wage debate: Not a struggle for or against the survival of immigrant-owned businesses, but a struggle between capital and labor. It is (excuse the quaint Marxist cliché) a class struggle. But then, as a thorough fisking of her column reveals, Pian Chan's arguments are so weak and her economic assertions so unsupported by the facts that you can hardly blame her for the rhetorical legerdemain:
“We just received a copy of the lawsuit and are currently reviewing it," Sakuma Brothers Farms spokesman John Segale tells me. "We believe the claims have no merit and look forward to having this resolved in court.”
"With our low wages, it is especially hard to receive less than we are owed,” says Merino in a press release sent out by an attorney from Columbia Legal Services. The suit also charges that the farm's management agreed to set wages based on a "test pick" of blueberry fields, but reneged, echoing claims made by strike leader Raul Torres in September when workers walked off the job. Last week, I reported that the farm is under investigation by the Department of Labor for allegedly using guest workers during a labor dispute, a possible violation of the federal H-2A guest worker program's rules.
Sakuma Brothers Farms is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor for using guest workers during a labor dispute, Department of Labor spokesperson Jose Carnevali has confirmed. It's been rumored for weeks that the farm is under investigation, but until now the government shutdown prevented me from being able to confirm it with the Department of Labor. Carnevali wouldn't offer any further details about the investigation.
Here's what's happening: Under the federal H-2A guest worker program, the farm, which grows delicious berries for Haagen Dazs and other buyers, brought in 175 guest workers from Mexico in July, who live on a labor camp near Burlington. The farm said they did so because of a labor shortage.
However, there are rules about using guest workers, and one of the rules is, guest workers can't be brought in if a farm is in the middle of a labor dispute. The language of the law is unambiguous, and in my reading of it, it certainly seems to apply to Sakuma Brothers Farms. Here's the relevant part of the federal code when it comes to labor discord:
An employer seeking to employ H-2A workers must agree as part of the Application for Temporary Employment Certification and job offer that it will abide by the requirements of this subpart and make each of the following additional assurances...
(b) No strike or lockout. The worksite for which the employer is requesting H-2A certification does not currently have workers on strike or being locked out in the course of a labor dispute.
The code further explains that a strike is defined as any "concerted" slowdown or work stoppage. A spokesman for Sakuma Brothers Farms has not responded to several requests for comment on the Department of Labor's investigation.
The guest workers arrived just days after over 200 other migrant farmworkers—not guest workers—first walked off the job to call for higher wages and better treatment. Many of them had been coming back year after year for the farm's harvest season. As I reported earlier this month, negotiations broke down completely when the farm fired an outspoken worker. (The farm alleges they fired him for a domestic violence incident; workers believe he was fired because he was effective at leading work stoppages.) The workers remained on strike through the end of harvest season and continue to call for a consumer boycott of the farm's products. Two weeks ago, Bastyr University in Kenmore became the latest institution to join the boycott, according to their website.
Rosalinda Guillen, one of the strike organizers, calls the guest worker program "an exploitative, almost slave-like worker program." She said it's like "going to Mexico and renting humans to harvest your crop and then shipping them back" and even compared it with the old "bracero" program (others, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, make the same comparison). Guillen filed a complaint with the Department of Labor regarding the guest workers back in August, which appears to have prompted the investigation.
From the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21 Facebook page:
We are very pleased to announce that today at 5 PM the union member bargaining team from UFCW 21 & 367 and Teamsters 38 reached a tentative agreement with the national grocery chains in contract negotiations. This tentative agreement has been unanimously recommended by the union member bargaining team. Details will not to be released until after union members themselves have had the opportunity to review the tentative agreement and vote on it. The times and locations of those vote meetings will be announced in the coming days after arrangements have been made to schedule the votes.
Of course it took the threat of an imminent strike (7 p.m. tonight!) to force an agreement. Ah well, human nature. In any case, good news for the grocery workers and their families. And good news for consumers who can now continue to shop guilt-free at unionized Safeway, QFC, Fred Meyer, Albertson's stores throughout the Puget Sound region.