City council member Kshama Sawant has tempered her supposed hardline position on "$15 Now" recently, saying she's okay with phasing in a $15 minimum wage for small businesses and nonprofits; she's suggested an initial minimum of $11 an hour, rising to $15 over three years.
As we reported yesterday, Sawant and her supporters with the group 15Now remain adamant that "big businesses" and corporations should have to pay their workers a minimum of $15 an hour starting in January, and they're prepared to start collecting signatures at the end of April if Mayor Ed Murray's income inequality task force fails to come up with a proposal that meets that goal.
The logistics of crafting a small-business exemption, of course, raises a significant question: How will the city define "small businesses," and will those businesses include franchise owners, who make up the vast majority of fast-food restaurant operators? Franchise owners aren't "big businesses"—they're often sole proprietors with profit margins in the single digits whose parent corporations control everything from what hours the business must be open to what the store must look like to how much they pay for raw materials.
We called Sawant to find out how she defines "small businesses." She responded (via email), saying basically that she doesn't know how large a business has to be to no longer be "small," but that she expects the city will "have the definitions worked out very soon"—an oddly vague position, given Sawant's went public with a pro-"small business" policy proposal.
I think Seattle's own paid sick leave ordinance could provide a guideline: All employers with fewer than five employees are exempt.
Here's Sawant's response, which instead elides the small business issue to focus on "big businesses" and "corporations."
“I have consistently maintained that all workers of Seattle should be paid at least $15/hour. City, county, and state governments need to tax the super-rich and big business in order to ensure that all workers, including those employed at small businesses and nonprofit human service providers, can get a $15/hour minimum wage starting January 1, 2015.
The intent of my policy proposal is to get agreement on the fact that large companies are fully capable of paying at least $15/hour to all their employees immediately, to move the discussion away from the carve-outs and to go towards a policy that will allow all low-wage workers in Seattle to get to a $15/hour minimum wage.
“We have heard little in response to the above. Instead, we have heard a lot about total compensation, tip credit, teenage wages, and training wages – any and all of which would be damaging to the interests of workers. The policy proposal I announced at the rally on March 15 clearly states my opposition to all of these carve-outs by business.
“Virtually all the conversation has centered around small businesses. Big business is willing to let small businesses speak for them. The intent of my policy proposal is to get agreement on the fact that large companies are fully capable of paying at least $15/hour to all their employees immediately, to move the discussion away from the carve-outs mentioned above, and to go towards a policy that will allow all low-wage workers in Seattle to get to a $15/hour minimum wage.
“I plan to continue my discussions with low-wage workers, economic and policy researchers, community organizations, the labor movement, nonprofit human services, members of the Mayor’s committee, and small businesses to determine the specific definitions of small businesses and large businesses. I am sure we will have the definitions worked out very soon.
"I remain committed to joining my voice with other voices for social justice, both among elected officials and community organizations, to put pressure on the State government to make taxing the wealthy and big corporations possible.”