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Seattle law creating ‘cutthroat’ environment for minimum wage jobs

The new minimum wage in Seattle became law April 1. It may still be too early to tell, but so far, there haven't been many issues, according to Working Washington. (AP)

Seattle’s higher minimum wage could be creating more competition for low-paying jobs.

Owners of a Seattle Subway shop on the border of Shoreline are being told by their employees that other shops are offering better wages.

Related: Minimum wage protests planned across Washington

The employees are saying, “‘Oh, we’re going to leave to go to downtown Subways because they’re offering $12 to $13 an hour,” Heidi Mann said. “Now it’s becoming cutthroat even for the minimum wage [job].”

The new minimum wage in Seattle became law two weeks ago. Mann said sales are similar to March sales, but the customer count &#8212 so far &#8212 is down. Mann and her husband raised prices by 25 to 50 cents on their menu, which attributes to why sales are similar.

However, Mann worries about the future of the restaurant if foot traffic continues to dwindle.

“In the long run, if our customer count continues to decline, we’ll be in trouble,” she said.

The employees of the Manns’ Seattle restaurant have said they receive fewer tips, too, because of the higher menu prices.

How the Seattle law is impacting businesses on a large-scale still remains to be seen.

“It is definitely early still,” said Working Washington spokesperson Sage Wilson. “We have not heard any large-scale complaints about people not paying the $11.”

Working Washington is a group that has pushed for a “fair economy.”

Wilson noted it is still early in outreach efforts and some employers – and maybe even employees – are not aware of what wages should be.

The wage ordinance gives businesses the option to phase in higher wages over several years. Businesses with more than 500 employees nationally have three years; those providing health insurance will have four. According to Seattle’s roll-out schedule, employees working for these large companies should be making at least $11 per hour.

Smaller businesses will have seven years to phase in the higher wages, which will include consideration for tips and healthcare costs.

By Jan. 1, 2016, people working for large businesses will be making up to a minimum of $13 an hour.

“And I think that is when people are going to start seeing a substantial difference in what opportunities they have before them,” Wilson said.

January 2016 is also when Mann worries about further impacts to her business because they will have to increase prices even more to pay higher wages.

“We’re just really scared about what is going to happen in January when we have to pay $13 an hour,” she said. Prices will rise 75 cents to $1.25 she added.

The push for higher wages isn’t over.

On Wednesday, workers around the state are rallying for higher wages, according to Wilson.

“While [the law] is obviously a huge victory for Seattle workers … the rest of the state isn’t there yet,” he said.

Workers in Spokane, Yakima, Pasco, Olympia, and SeaTac are expected to participate.

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