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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: minimum wage

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November 8, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Do Seattle voters really care about a $15 minimum wage?

Mayor-Elect Ed Murray has promises to keep. This Seattle Times news story suggests the powerful Service Employees International Union Healthcare 775 NW, which endorsed Murray over Mike McGinn, won’t let their man forget a SeaTac Prop 1-like citizen initiative could come to Seattle if leaders don’t take legislative action to increase the minimum wage to $15. The groundswell movement around socialist firebrand Kshama Sawant adds another voice to the debate over income inequality. (ICYMI: Read my colleague Bruce Ramsey’s column on the Sawant effect on Seattle liberal politics.)

But what about the rest of Seattle’s less-vocal voters? Between Oct. 14 and 16, consulting firm Strategies 360 released a survey based on 400 interviews among likely voters in Seattle.

The results indicate minimum wage as a standalone issue is not at the top of peoples’ agendas. Seattleites care more about the economy, jobs, education, public safety and road infrastructure. Here’s the chart:

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 10.36.52 AM

Source: Strategies 360 Survey

View the complete survey on Strategies 360’s web site. With a 4.9 percent margin of error, the results also showed 48 percent of respondents think Seattle is heading in the right direction. Perceptions of the local economy are 73 percent positive — with 64 percent saying it’s in “good shape.”

Of course, none of those rosy numbers equaled votes for Mayor Mike McGinn. Voters found him to be a “more divisive figure” than Murray.

Here’s another telling visual:

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Comments | Topics: ed murray, elections, minimum wage

November 1, 2013 at 11:38 AM

Who a $15 minimum wage would devastate: James Shin of Quality Inn SeaTac

Quality Inn SeaTac (Photo courtesy of James Shin)

Quality Inn SeaTac (Photo courtesy of James Shin)

A war is being waged in SeaTac over the minimum wage. Voters will decide Tuesday whether to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for some airport and hospitality workers with Proposition 1. Organizers then plan to bring the campaign to Seattle, where both mayoral candidates have already expressed support.

Supporters say it would help low-income people and families achieve a better life. That’s a bit simplistic. Poor people are not a monolithic group. 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.

He’s not the chief executive of a hotel chain. He owns one hotel. And he used to be poor.

Shin, a U.S. citizen, immigrated here from South Korea in 1975. He had a bachelor’s degree from a Korean university, but he spoke little English. His first job in the U.S.? Dishwasher. He made $2.25 an hour. In his next job he was a janitor. “When I moved to the U.S. I worked hard. Some people didn’t want to work weekends. I worked on weekends for overtime,” he said.

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Comments | Topics: 2013 elections, economy, minimum wage

October 30, 2013 at 12:01 PM

How a $15 minimum wage would devastate immigrant businesses

SeaTac Prop 1

Gabriel Campanario / Seattle Times

Raising the minimum wage to this level would be devastating to immigrant-owned small businesses.

On Nov. 5, SeaTac will consider whether to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for some airport and hospitality workers with Proposition 1. Efforts are under way to raise the same issue in Seattle. Mayor Mike McGinn, who is running for re-election, has already made it an issue in a zoning permit spat with Whole Foods in Seattle. In fact, he would like to raise it even higher in Seattle. His challenger, state Sen. Ed Murray, has also indicated support for the $15 level. (Read both sides of the debate in Tuesday’s Pro/Con on Prop. 1. Our editorial board recommends a no vote on Proposition 1 in an editorial.)

And while the current ballot issue only affects SeaTac, the next stop for the minimum-wage campaign is Seattle.

Supporters of the $15 campaign say it would help low-income people and families working in these jobs. That presumes poor people are a monolithic group, all of whom want to work those jobs for the rest of their lives.

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Comments | Topics: economy, immigration, millennials

October 8, 2013 at 9:06 AM

Increase the minimum wage or increase educational levels?

Thoughtful responses have piled up in my email inbox since my column about Proposition 1 which, if approved by City of SeaTac voters, would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for about 6,300 workers at Sea-Tac airport and nearby hotels, car-rental agencies and parking lots.

I disagree with the Nov. 5 ballot measure. There’s not much point in raising the minimum wage for thousands when the issues are wage depression for millions of workers and a yawning gap between the skills workers possess and the ones they need to have a shot at a good paying job. Going city by city – SeaTac today, Puyallup tomorrow – will result in a nationwide shift in the minimum wage by, oh, 2070.

Dean Shoemaker from Kent said: “Of course, not many have the talent and determination of a Subelbia. All I would ask is that the minimum wage stay up with inflation. Choose any decade in the last half century, any you want and track inflation and the minimum wage down to the present. Minimum wage has fallen behind which suggests that working folks have  suffered a decline in their standard of living.”

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Comments | Topics: 2013 elections, economy, Education

October 4, 2013 at 6:15 AM

Education offers more wage guarantee than SeaTac’s Prop 1

My latest column moves beyond debate about the City of SeaTac’s Proposition 1 to the low-wage jobs issue that inspired it. It is not clear whether voters will approve the Nov. 5 ballot proposal to raise minimum wage at Sea-Tac International Airport and nearby businesses to $15 an hour. The Washington Research Council opposes the measure out of concern for Washington employers…

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Comments | Topics: children, economy, Education

September 23, 2013 at 7:18 AM

Reader thoughts on minimum wage and Dick’s Drive-In

Thousands of readers took interest in my blog post last Monday highlighting the principles behind Seattle’s beloved Dick’s Drive-In chain, known for paying employees at least $10 an hour and offering benefits. Jim Spady, the company’s vice president and legal counsel, still adheres to his father Dick Spady’s core business philosophy: make a profit first, then take care of your employees and community.

A recruitment sign at Dick's Drive-In on Capitol Hill. (INSTAGRAM PHOTO BY THANH TAN)

A recruitment sign at Dick’s Drive-In on Capitol Hill. (INSTAGRAM PHOTO BY THANH TAN)

Spady’s views resonated with folks who are thinking about the local and national debate about whether to raise the minimum wage from $9.19 to $15 per hour. Check out some of the most thoughtful viewpoints from readers to my blog post below.

A proposition to raise the minimum for airport-related employees is on the ballot in SeaTac. Fast-food workers in Seattle have attempted strikes demanding the same. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn opposes a land-use permit for a Whole Foods development in West Seattle over the grocer’s wages.

First, here’s an informal poll:

Now, time for some of your edited comments.

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Comments | Topics: dicks drive in, minimum wage

September 16, 2013 at 7:37 AM

Lessons from Dick’s Drive-In on minimum wage, employee benefits

Every time I walk over to Dick’s Drive-In on Capitol Hill, I have a mass craving for this:

Half-eaten order of fries from Dick's Drive-In. (INSTAGRAM PHOTO BY THANH TAN)

Half-eaten order of fries from Dick’s Drive-In. (Instagram photo by Thanh Tan / Seattle Times)

 

And every time I order something, my eyes fixate on this recruitment sign:

A recruitment sign at Dick's Drive-In on Capitol Hill. (Instagram photo by Thanh Tan / Seattle Times)

A recruitment sign at Dick’s Drive-In on Capitol Hill. (INSTAGRAM PHOTO BY THANH TAN)

Flipping burgers and making shakes pays $10 an hour to start? Merit raises? Employer-paid insurance? Up to $8,000 for child care or college tuition? A 401(k) retirement program with employer match? Paid time for volunteer service? Up to three weeks paid vacation?

Yes, it’s true. Minimum requirements must be met, but every one of those benefits is available to the 180 employees who work for Dick’s Drive-In. Since the first restaurant opened in January 1954, tens of thousands of workers have started their careers in one of the chain’s six Seattle-area locations.

As local fast-food workers join a nationwide movement for a $15 minimum wage, Dick’s approach is a much more realistic, time-tested model for local businesses to emulate. Mandating a massive increase from Washington’s current minimum wage of $9.19 is too much, too fast for the small restaurants that are hiring inexperienced employees.

So how exactly is Dick’s able to offer more than the minimum wage and a plethora of benefits when its menu charges no more than $2.70 per item?

Jim Spady, the restaurant namesake’s son, company vice president and legal counsel, has surprisingly simple answers based on his dad’s business philosophy. (Dick is turning 90 next month and remains president of the company.)

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Comments | Topics: dicks drive in, fast food, minimum wage

September 9, 2013 at 7:39 AM

What is the minimum wage worth now compared to 50 years ago?

What is today’s minimum wage worth compared to wages 50 years ago? Should the lowest-paid workers in America share more of corporate America’s profits? Seattle has become the epicenter of the national minimum-wage debate. SeaTac voters will decide in the general election whether to raise the minimum wage for some workers in and around the airport. Seattle…

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Comments | Topics: economy, labor, minimum wage

September 3, 2013 at 6:05 AM

Raising minimum wage to an arbitrary $15 is not practical

Thursday’s fast-food strike around Seattle didn’t exactly inspire the masses to stand up and demand an immediate increase in the minimum wage. (Read The Seattle Times’ news report on the day’s activities.) As of Friday, more than 700 people voted in an informal survey posted within a Seattle Times news story. The majority were against paying fast-food workers $15 an hour.

Protestors block traffic on E. Pike St. in Seattle during rush hour Thursday Aug. 29, 2013 on their way to Broadway Avenue where they stood outside businesses and encouraged employees to join them in Seattle, Wash. They want the minimum wage to be raised to $15/hour. (AP Photo Seatte Times, Ellen M. Banner)

Protestors block traffic on E. Pike St. in Seattle during rush hour Thursday Aug. 29, 2013 on their way to Broadway Avenue where they stood outside businesses and encouraged employees to join them in Seattle, Wash. They want the minimum wage to be raised to $15/hour. (AP Photo Seatte Times, Ellen M. Banner)

Public opinion changes all the time. If folks have little sympathy for the $15 minimum wage movement right now, perhaps it’s because the discussion is too focused on an arbitrary figure of $15 and not focused enough on investing in education and programs to help people gain the skills they need to compete in today’s economy.

True, a lot of employees in fast-food restaurants are not moving up. They’re stuck. The answer shouldn’t be to raise wages for all, though. Washington state already boasts the highest minimum wage in the nation — $9.19 compared to the federal rate of $7.25 per hour. We should instead encourage more opportunities for employees to access tools and training to move into higher positions and experience upward mobility. Or consider an incremental approach to raising wages that doesn’t place business owners in the position of suddenly raising payroll costs by 60 percent. How about funding education so that the children of these low-wage workers can break the cycle of poverty? Or free birth control, so that people have the power to decide when they can afford to expand their families?

I grew up watching my parents and their fellow Vietnamese immigrants take on hard-labor jobs by day while attending night school. Family members often lived under the same roof to save money. I spent my teen years and early 20s working in my parents’ restaurant with plenty of other food-service workers. The whole experience reinforced a practical notion: Good employers like flexibility and having the autonomy to decide when they can reward solid workers with raises and promotions — and some workers need an incentive to motivate them to do their best work.

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Comments | Topics: fast-food workers, living wage, minimum wage

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