The Liberty Bar in Seattle faced protesters on Tuesday for their support of a group trying to file a referendum to send the minimum wage issue to voters.
Bar owner Andrew Friedman says while they didn’t take the protest too seriously – a number of the demonstrators appeared to be actors posing as outraged customers – he’s choosing to speak out because he doesn’t like what’s happening to small businesses in Seattle.
“We really are concerned about the entire small business environment of Seattle,” says Friedman. “What happened today to me really made someone like me, who really tries to get no publicity on something like this or in general, to really [want to] go out and speak to people and say this is a danger to our whole community.”
Friedman was targeted for his support of a group called Forward Seattle, who is pushing a referendum to put the $15 minimum wage to a public vote. His bar was posted on a list of 22 businesses that Working Washington, a group that backed the $15 minimum wage proposal, says have actively funded efforts to repeal the $15 minimum wage law passed by the Seattle City Council and signed into law by Mayor Ed Murray.
Working Washington is claiming these businesses are part of “A fringe group of right-wing conservatives, real estate developers, and corporate executives” that they say “are using misleading tactics to try and repeal Seattle’s minimum wage law and keep workers in poverty.”
Friedman certainly doesn’t identify with that description. “Anyone who knows me, who is listening, would crack up to think I’m part of a right-wing fringe group. I’m a progressive liberal on 90 percent of issues out there.”
But he says that a $15 minimum wage could have a very bad impact on small business in the city of Seattle.
“Whatever someone’s political beliefs, wherever they are across the board, us small businesses know our numbers, and we know if this goes through, even in the pathway that the mayor proposed, it’s incredibly dangerous to many, many small businesses.”
He’s willing to share exactly how the increase in the minimum wage will impact his bar. “My business in particular is in danger because for every one dollar in payroll wage that increases, that’s at least $20,000 a year in added cost to me.”
As a specialty cocktail bar, he says his profits are small as is, and when the wage requirement hits them, the business will certainly cease to exist as it does today and may not exist at all.
Fortunately, he says they won’t be seeing a dramatic wage increase requirement for a few years because his business has tips, so they’ll see a phase-in period. But he’s worried now for those businesses that don’t.
“What about your neighborhood pet supply store? The art supply store? I’m just thinking of the places I like to go,” he says. “Those kind of places, those people don’t work on commission, they don’t work on tips. Those businesses have no carve outs.”
As someone who’s talked with many small business owners, Friedman says things are not looking good. “I’ve been part of many different groups of small business owners and there’s only one that I can think of, of the dozens and dozens, that thinks that this won’t be a problem.”
“The reality is that small businesses cannot take it as it has been designed,” says Friedman. “It’s unfortunate that otherwise intelligent people are being misled.”
Seattle is now at the center of this issue and Friedman says he felt responsible to speak out before more small businesses got pushed around.
“They’re using Seattle as a test market to do this around the country. The more they do things like this, the more they can scare people into not speaking out. I’ll tell you, I did not want to speak out,” says Friendman. “I did not want to be the face of what they are turning into these evil business owners, but the more we allow them to design the discussion, the more small businesses will definitely be cowed down.”