Former Starbucks Exec Howard Behar says Seattle’s business decisions are ‘killing us’

Jun 16, 2016, 2:43 PM

Howard Behar, philanthropist and former president of Starbucks International, could have said nothing. He’s 72 years old, retired and not specifically involved in the business community anymore. But he couldn’t hold his tongue – or his pen.

“It’s just made me crazy and I couldn’t sit still anymore,” Behar told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

If you were looking in Sunday’s Seattle Times, you may have seen a full-page advertisement that points out some of Behar’s issues with local government, specifically proposed scheduling rights for part-time workers in Seattle. Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council are looking at the trend of “just in time” employment, where businesses can maximize efficiency by adding extra staff and truncating schedules to fill out the workday. The practice empowers management for flexibility but the unpredictable scheduling can be a headache for workers.

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The city is kicking around a proposal that would allow the government to tell businesses what kind of turnaround time they must have and how they have to treat schedules for part-time employees, Behar said. He says the law is trying to restrict how many people you can hire, when you can schedule them without paying a penalty and how much notice you have to give them. He calls it a “solution in search of a problem.”

“It’s the opposite of flexible; they are making it inflexible,” Behar told Dori. “They are making it so there are so many rules that if you wanted to hire an extra person from your staff, you’d have to get permission from your employees first. So you couldn’t even hire anybody without offering the hours to those people.

“It’s being driven basically by the Service Employees Union and by Working Washington,” he added. “And I’m not against unions and I’m not against SEIU, I am friends with one of the top leaders there. But this is a reach beyond all reaches. There is absolutely no reason to do this.”

Behar said it took him three months to write the content for the ad, which he paid for himself.

“I wasn’t that good of a student; I couldn’t get it down to 900 words so that I could submit it as an editorial,” he said. “I said, ‘OK, I’m going to write what I want and I’m going to step up and pay for it.’”

Behar said he started working in Seattle as a 13-year-old and knows the importance of part-time jobs in the city. He says officials are trying to legislate part-time jobs out of existence “by creating so many rules and so many blocks to doing it that companies will just walk away from it.” He says the flexible scheduling legislation is “dumb.”

“You have think about this one: You want to hire more people but they want you to ask permission so that you’re creating fewer jobs,” he said. “Kind of loony bin; it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Behar noted that he doesn’t oppose the $15 minimum wage but didn’t agree with the way the city did it. He says brick-and-mortar businesses are already struggling and the minimum-wage implementation makes things worse.

“What we’re doing is we’re putting a noose around these brick-and-mortar retailers and just tightening it a little bit at a time,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Dori asked why Behar chose to “rage against the machine that’s in Seattle” when he didn’t need to.

“Because this is killing us,” Behar responded. “Doing dumb things does not help and when the city does dumb things in the guise of doing something good and taking care of people, over the long term it hurts. My grandkids are here and hopefully my great-grandkids will be here. And I grew up here.”

While Dori believes the city makes these kinds of rules to keep taxpayers under the government’s thumb, Behar is less cynical.

“I always like to assume good intention because that’s the way I grew up and that’s how I live my life,” he said. “But forget whether the intention is good or not, this is just dumb.”

Dori Monson on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dori monsonTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 12 noon for The Dori Monson Show.

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Former Starbucks Exec Howard Behar says Seattle’s business decisions are ‘killing us’