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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

April 10, 2014 at 4:42 PM

Businesses push back on minimum-wage demands

A group that includes the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Washington Restaurant Association announced the formation today of a new business coalition, OneSeattle, to counter the minimum-wage demands made by unions and 15 Now activists.

The group says it supports both the goal of $15 an hour and the concept of broad prosperity for all. But it breaks sharply with the activists in calling for current tips and health care benefits to be counted toward the $15 minimum. OneSeattle also advocates a training wage for inexperienced workers and a phase-in to allow employers to adjust to the increase and the state Legislature to increase funding to social service agencies, many of whose workers make less than $15 an hour.

“We support wages going up, but they have to go up in a responsible way,” said Louise Chernin, executive director of the Greater Seattle Business Association, which represents LGBT business owners. Chernin was joined by some local restaurant owners and other small business owners at a news conference today On Capitol Hill to introduce the new organization.

Julie Hiatt, owner of Global Fulfillment, which employs 18, said she’d likely have to stop hiring temporary workers for occasional big jobs if the city adopts a $15 minimum wage. Her total cost would jump to $23 an hour for each temporary worker because she also pays an employment agency $6 an hour for the temps.

She said she’d like to see a phase-in of the increase over several years as well as credit for all employee benefits.

“The true answer to income inequality is to raise the skills of workers,” she said.

A small contingent of 15 Now activists attended the news conference and attempted to cross-examine the small-business owners before being cut-off by others in the audience. Philip Locker, national organizer for the Socialist Alternative Party, a backer of 15 Now, said later that the new business coalition was an “Astroturf” group backed by big businesses including Starbucks, big grocery companies and the state restaurant association, which actively opposed the SeaTac minimum wage ordinance.

Locker also denounced the proposal to give businesses credit for total compensation such as tips and health care benefits, saying it would deny a true $15 minimum wage to workers.

The emergence of an organized business coalition also raises the possibility of competing initiatives on the November ballot if the labor and business representatives on Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee are unable to agree on a proposal to raise the minimum wage.

Comments | More in Politics Northwest | Topics: $15 minimum wage, OneSeattle, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce

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