City Hall

Business-Backed Group Forms to Push "Total Compensation" Option in $15 Min Wage Fight

Another group announces its opposition to an across-the-board $15 minimum wage; opponents call it an "Astroturf" organization backed by big corporations.

By Erica C. Barnett April 10, 2014

A group calling itself OneSeattle Coalition that's backed by the Seattle Restaurant Alliance, the Greater Seattle Business Association (that's the gay and lesbian Seattle business group), local non-profits such as developmental disability group Arc of King County, and some small businesses announced a set of principles on the $15 minimum wage proposal today. When the group debuted on social media on Monday, we reported their connection to the Seattle Restaurant Allianceonday, a chapter of the conservative Washington Restuarnant Alliance.

Speaking at a two-hour-long press conference this afternoon, members of the group said that they support $15 an hour, but only if "total compensation" is included in the wage (that is, health care, tips, bonuses, and any other benefits would count against a worker's hourly wage); if the new minimum is phased in over time (the owner of Island Soul restaurant in Columbia City, Theo Martin, suggested he'd prefer a phase-in over 10 years); and if there's a sub-minimum "training wage" for new employees.

Organizers from, the group initially associated with Socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant that's pushing for a no compromise $15 minimum wage increase, several of whom showed up for today's announcement at Capitol Hill's Century Ballroom asking pointed questions (prompting OneSeattle consultant Alex Fryer to repeatedly insist that only media were allowed to query the group of business owners), issued a statement calling the group's effort a "campaign of lies" by "big business," alleging that the group is "run by Starbucks, Alaska Airlines, big grocery companies, and the Washington Restaurant Association."

Asked about its financial backers, OneSeattle spokesman Fryer said that the "Associations representing those retailers have participated at coalition meetings. Alaska Airlines also showed up at a meeting. As for financial involvement, I cannot say." (When we broke the news about the WRA connection on Monday, we asked Fryer who was paying him; he said he wasn't being paid yet.)

Fryer continued: "$15Now is trying to blow smoke by linking our group with large corporations that are a lot easier to demonize than the local restaurants, manufacturers, and non-profits you heard from today. Please don’t fall for it. Look who was at today’s meeting, and who is on our partner list."

The list includes several restaurants owned by tip credit proponent restaurateur/bar owner/band manager Dave Meinert; Dick's Drive-In; the Seattle Hilton; and the city's Chamber of Commerce.

Fryer says the group may go with an initiative or referendum if the mayor's Income Advisory Task Force doesn't come up with a solution that's acceptable to the coalition (total compensation, training wage, and phase-in). 

Linda Morton, the co-owner (along with celeb chef Tamara Murphy) of Terra Plata, added, "In the restaurant industry, the average profit is two to four percent," adding that Murphy was "basically homeless" and unemployable in New York City when she was hired to make cheese for a sub-minimum training wage, after which she worked up the ladder to become one of the top chefs in the Northwest. "The way she brought up her skill was by coming up through those low-level positions." 

I asked the group to explain what they thought about restaurant workers who aren't going to become the next Tamara Murphy—say, the single mom who works at Subway to make a subsistence living or supplement another job? 

"If you work at the Wendy's or IHOP at 3:00 in the morning and you don't get tips, your employers will be responsible to make up whatever the difference is," Morton said. 

(In its dramatic press release, 15Now responded that "big businesses" are the ones who are "really trying to take your tips" by threatening to remove the tip line from their receipts. The threat would play out this way, according to a restaurateur we spoke with: A new service fee would to the restuarant instead of to the worker, covering the increase to $15 for everyone, while diminishing in-pocket cash for waiters.)

When I asked about the "training wage" for workers who don't make tips, Julie Hiatt, owner of the manufacturing firm Global Fulfillment (pictured, left; image via OneSeattle), said they would allow companies like hers to train workers in a complicated trade where they aren't fully productive for "three to six months." 

Finally, regarding "total compensation," GSBA head Louise Chernin told me generous employers should be rewarded for helping their workers out in ways they aren't required by law to do. "If you have an employer that's willing to help you with benefits like health care, that's a good thing. That should be counted toward your total compensation. ... I think the stories are quite shocking of what benefits people get from local employers," she added, including the fact that employers contribute generously to food banks and other local nonprofits. 

Editorializing here, but perhaps those food bank contributions wouldn't be so necessary if employers simply paid their workers a living wage. 

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