The city of Seattle, Washington, embarked on a bold experiment when the city council voted to phase in a $15 an hour minimum wage. In recent weeks there has been a rash of restaurant closings in the city, and of course, the right is very happy to blame the new minimum wage for those closures. Would it surprise you to learn that they’re not telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
American Thinker, a site where the writers seem to do anything but, proclaims in a March 14 headline, “Seattle restaurants going dark as $15 an hour minimum wage goes into effect.”
The libertarian site, Reason, proclaims, “Seattle’s Looming $15 Minimum Wage Seems to Be Costing Restaurant Lives.”
Of course, the always full of it, Hot Air, weighs in, saying, “Seattle eateries closing as $15 minimum wage approaches.”
As usual, the truth is more complicated, and not quite what those sites would have you believe.
Seattle’s minimum wage does not jump to $15 an hour in April.
Right-wing sites want everyone to believe that, come April 1, the minimum wage in Seattle will jump from the current level to $15 an hour. That’s not what’s happening at all. The new minimum wage will be phased in over several years. How quickly a business reaches the $15 an hour level depends on the size of the business, and whether or not the business offers employees health care benefits, as explained on Seattle mayor Ed Murray’s web page.
The current minimum wage in Washington state is $9.32 an hour. That wage goes to $11 an hour on April 1 for businesses with more than 500 employees. For businesses such as restaurants, with fewer than 500 employees, who receive “minimum compensation,” that wage can be made up of a combination of wages, tips, and employer contributions to an employee health care plan, as long as the total of all the compensation equals at least $11 an hour. The full $15 an hour minimum wage does not take effect for restaurants until 2019.
The right-wing sites mentioned above all latched onto a story in Seattle Magazine, that says that the impending wage increase is one of the reasons for the restaurant closures. However, Sara Jones, author of the story, acknowledges that not a single restaurateur she spoke to gave the wage increase as a reason for his or her restaurant being closed.
Why are Seattle restaurants closing?
It is true that Seattle is seeing a large number of restaurants closing their doors. So, what exactly is going on, if it’s not the new minimum wage? It’s a variety of things. According to Seattle Magazine, Anthony Anton, the head of the Washington Restaurant Association, says that each year, about 17 percent of Washington restaurants go out of business, or change owners. That amounts to about 400 restaurants “in a good year,” he says.
Seattle Met highlights some of the closings, and the reasons for them. Renee Erickson is closing her Boat Street Cafe so that she can concentrate on two other restaurants, both of which she is opening this summer. Wait. She’s closing one, and opening two, and we’re supposed to believe that the one that is closing is due to a higher minimum wage?
Little Uncle is closing their restaurant because they have decided that bigger is not necessarily better. The owners say that the larger location doesn’t fit their personal and professional goals. After closing the larger venue, Little Uncle continues to do business out of their original, smaller, take-out location.
Grub, an upscale restaurant highlighted in the right-wing coverage of restaurant closings, closed simply because the owner has decided to move on. Sharon Fillingim explains on the restaurant’s Facebook page that she believes it is sometimes best for an entrepreneur to “leave at the top of [her] game.” She makes no mention of the minimum wage increase having any influence in her decision. In fact, contrary to what right wing sites would have you believe, the space occupied by Grub will not be left vacant. Fillingim introduces the new restaurant, Bounty Kitchen, that will take over from Grub, and its owner, in the same Facebook post.
As usual, the right manages to take something, and spin it into something completely different than what it is. While there may be some Seattle restaurateurs who are concerned about the phasing in of the minimum wage increase, none who have been interviewed by media have indicated that as a primary concern, or for that matter, as a concern at all. But, facts be damned, the conservative war on working people continues, unabated.
Image via Alan Light/Flickr