Watch out, Tacoma: ‘Radical’ minimum wage push comes your way

Apr 6, 2015, 12:41 PM | Updated: 1:06 pm

The $15 an hour movement has spread to Tacoma and things are getting pretty heated. (AP)...

The $15 an hour movement has spread to Tacoma and things are getting pretty heated. (AP)


The $15 an hour movement has spread to Tacoma and things are getting pretty heated according to the Tacoma News Tribune. In fact, activists are trying to get a minimum wage hike passed and in effect for January 2016 – leaving one local businesswoman to call it “radical.”

The Tribune reports:

Members of the Downtown Merchants Group, at its regular meeting Thursday, had tense exchanges with two representatives of 15 Now Tacoma, the advocacy group currently gathering signatures to require the wage boost. DMG [Downtown Merchants Group] President Judi Hyman said she invited them to the meeting “to better understand the reasoning and also to understand how to prepare” should the ballot measure become law.

“Fifteen dollars an hour is not a princely sum,” Alan Stancliff, a volunteer for 15 Now Tacoma, told the 30 or so DMG members who attended the meeting in the lobby of the Pantages Theater. “This initiative has legs, and it will happen.’

There’s something ironic about $15 not being a princely sum, yet at the same time the argument is this will take people out of poverty.

Now, this initiative is significantly different from the Seattle version.

The group’s proposed law would require businesses making gross revenues – the amount of income before expenses – of more than $300,000 to pay its employees a minimum of $15 an hour.

Unlike Seattle’s law, which went into effect this week, the Tacoma ballot measure has no tiers based on number of employees, no phasing in over time, and no credits for things such as tips or other benefits.

“Labor has a cost and a price. When the price is far below the cost, something has to make up the difference. Now, it’s the welfare system,” Stancliff said. “We believe employers should pay the full price for labor.”

I believe that too. The difference is they’re not determining the price of labor on what the job delivers to the company. They’re basing it on what they think the businesses have in savings and what would be easiest to live on without any reasonable sacrifices. While I understand that perspective, it’s not a business’ job to guarantee you a comfortable life.

I’m not sure where that particular ideology comes from, other than a sense of entitlement. That you’re entitled to live the life you want and have someone else pay for it, even if you’re not worth the cost. Where does that come from? There was a report out Monday that also points to an entitled work force that’s worth reading.

Philip Panagos owns Social and Paesan, two restaurants on Dock Street. He said the idea that Tacoma’s small businesses were rolling in dough is simply fantasy. His business card reads “head janitor.”

“I have employees that make $60,000 a year because of wages and tips,” he said, adding that he estimates he’ll break even on his investments in four years. He said he employs 50 people in the summer and a skeleton crew in the winter. This winter, he took out a $50,000 line of credit to survive the season.

Restaurant owners aren’t in business “to make money today,” Panagos said. “We’re building an asset.”

If Tacoma implements a $15 minimum wage, Panagos said, he’ll probably move out of Tacoma.

The problem is these activists, many of which never owned a business before and have never even studied economics, pretend they know more than they actually do. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a voice or analyze and critique, but it would behoove them to listen to actual business owners who do know what it’s like running a business (whether it’s big or small). Ultimately, you may not be moved by what they have to say, and that’s alright, but some of these activists aren’t even listening. They’re simply dismissing the business community, which is the community that will fight back against these initiatives. Maybe you’d actually find consensus or compromise if these activists would at least pretend to have some respect for the businesses.

And calling activists out as inexperienced when it comes to running businesses is not necessarily a diss, than it is advice: you don’t know what you’re talking about and when you throw out bizarre statements that treat the mom and pop restaurant or convenience store like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, know you’re not going to win the minds of business.

But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? They’re not really interested in winning the minds of businesses. They’re in the intimidation game with businesses: follow us, or we’ll protest you. Buy into our demands, or we’ll ruin your businesses.

This likely will go to the voters in Tacoma. Good. I hope it does. I hope they actually have the debate and they don’t get to run rough shot over a city council that is just as ideological as the city council in Seattle.

Let it go to the vote because only then the business community will actually be able to join the debate and have some impact. That didn’t happen in Seattle. They weren’t part of the debate because there wasn’t one. There was no vote of the people; businesses were told “we’re doing this, get on board or be left out.”

Mayor Murray was terrified of letting this go to the voters – that’s not his style. He wants to be in charge and push what he wants and not let you decide. Now, I don’t think he should have been terrified. I think it would have passed. But he would have to defend his proposal and when you base beliefs solely in ideology and the topic is economics, it gets a little harder to win that debate.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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Watch out, Tacoma: ‘Radical’ minimum wage push comes your way