(by Molly Moon Neitzel and Consuelo Gomez)
The small businesses the two of us run are very different.
You’ve probably heard of one of our businesses – Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream. Every day, thousands of Seattlites enjoy our ice cream in six shops and walk-up windows from Wallingford to Madrona. Many of our scoopers are young people, working to pay for their education, or working their first job out of school. They earn tips and receive 100% employer-paid health insurance.
The other – Marty K – may not be a kitchen table name, but we’re no less a part of daily life and commerce. Owned by a second generation immigrant, we provide comprehensive facilities maintenance for clients up and down the I-5 corridor, conducting 20 percent of our business in Seattle. Our 50 employees have families, many immigrants or naturalized citizens themselves. Tips aren’t part of our business model, and the high cost of health insurance has kept it out of reach.
Despite our differences, we also have a lot in common. We’re both successful, growing small businesses, owned by passionate and driven women. We are both very active members of the Main Street Alliance of Washington. And, we both support Seattle’s new $15 minimum wage ordinance.
Coming to a decision to support a $15 minimum wage was a process. As leaders in the Main Street Alliance, we made a commitment to join other small business, community, and labor leaders in the hard, behind-the-scenes work of finding principled common ground.
That informal process – based on building relationships and trust – was mirrored by a formal process convened under the Mayor’s leadership, bringing political opponents together to negotiate a $15 wage plan. With wall-to-wall media coverage, our entire city has been engaged in this journey.
Our principles have remained steadfast – provide economic security for low-wage workers with a significant increase in the minimum wage, boost the local economy, and support small business success at the same time.
Too often, our political and policy debates are marked by short-sighted, narrow visions and simplistic divisions – business vs. labor, immigrant vs. native born, poor vs. middle class.
Finding common ground is the hard work of expanding our field of view to a broader horizon – a vision for shared prosperity that recognizes we’re all in this together.
This is not Pollyanna idealism. We know there remain powerful forces that seek to divide the interests of small businesses from our communities and rig political and economic systems to their advantage. Big corporations may be just as reluctant to give up the power and privilege they have attained as some progressives are to believe a business-backed solution could ever serve their interests.
Yet by seeking common ground, we’ve learned a great deal – and we’ve taught just as much. “$15 Now!” was a clear demand that commanded public attention. “$15 How?” is the hard work of finding a smart, responsible, and progressive solution.
We’ve learned why labor calls a “tip credit” a “tip penalty.” The federal tipped minimum wage has been frozen at a meager $2.13/hour for over 20 years. That is, indeed, a penalty.
We’re proud to do business in a non tip credit state that, according to recent figures from payroll processor Paychex, leads the nation in small business job growth. The sunsetted “Minimum Compensation” compromise, which is part of the new law, is smart to continue Washington’s tradition of tipped income above the minimum wage, not below.
Our friends in the progressive movement have learned that small businesses need time to realize the benefits of increased consumer demand a $15 wage will generate. Seattle’s low-wage consumers will have $2.5 billion more to spend in the first decade of the new minimum wage law. Businesses will not just survive, but thrive.
What we have done here in Seattle strikes a delicate balance – a compromise that raises wages, boosts the local economy, and supports small business success at the same time.
We have shown the way for cities across the country to follow.