Union Boss Calls Small Business Owners Opposed to Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage “Right-Wing Ideologues”

June 11, 2014

An organization representing small business owners in Seattle has filed a charter amendment to undo the City’s recently passed $15 minimum wage law and replace it with a less aggressive and less complicated minimum wage increase.

The grassroots organization behind the measure, Forward Seattle, proposes a “straight forward, no exceptions” phase in of a $12.50 minimum wage over five years for all workers.  The plan would increase the minimum wage to $10.50 in 2015 for every business and then increase it in 40-cent increments every year thereafter, reaching $12.50 in 2020.   There would be no exceptions to the phase-in schedule.

Forward Seattle describes its members as “Seattle’s local, independent businesses…who need a voice in Seattle’s minimum wage debate.” 

Labor boss David Rolf has a much different description of Forward Seattle’s small businesses.  Rolf, president of Service Employees International Union 775 and co-chairman of Mayor Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee, dismissed the small businesses supporting the measure as “right-wing ideologues.”

Rolf’s disparaging description of the small business owners concerned with the future of both their business and their workers reflects the tone of the minimum wage debate in recent months.  Seattle small business owners, many of whom are active and avowed liberal activists in the community, say the wage movement became “cultlike,” with dissenters, regardless of their liberal resume, attacked for being “too rich” or “exploiting the working poor.”  Many small business owners say they were intimidated, heckled and harassed for daring to question the wisdom of making Seattle the test case for forcing every employer in Seattle to pay every worker a $15 wage.

Under the law passed by the City Council last week, big businesses that employ more than 500 workers have up to three years to pay the $15 wage, while small businesses with fewer than 500 workers have up to seven years.  And while the phase-in period was designed to give small businesses time to acclimate to the high wage, small business owners say it won’t help them. The campaign chairwoman of Forward Seattle’s measure, Flying Apron Bakery co-owner Angela Cough, says small businesses will end up paying the $15 wage much sooner because as big businesses begin paying the higher wage, small businesses will have to match those high wages to compete for workers.

The Seattle small businesses behind the charter amendment say a smaller increase over a shorter period of time would be “more doable for business” and “cause less harm to the economy.”  In David Rolf’s opinion, that’s just “right-wing” rhetoric.