Bob Donegan on Raising the Minimum Wage to $15: “customers seem to like it, the employees seem to like it, and it seems to be working”

Yesterday, I shared the good news about a new pizza place going into the old Z Pizza spot, which indicated that Seattle’s $15 minimum wage isn’t the job-killer that conservatives made it out to be. Today, the Seattle PI published a report from the AP’s Gene Johnson that talks to people who work in restaurants about the change. I don’t want to keep you in suspense, so let me cut to the point right away: they’re very happy with how the $15 rollout is going.

Come to think of it, I could go for a nice bowl of Ivar's clam chowder right now.

Come to think of it, I could go for a nice bowl of Ivar’s clam chowder right now.

Johnson focuses on Ivar’s Salmon House, which immediately raised staff wages to $15 per hour in April and instituted a tip-free policy that raised menu prices and shared some of the revenue from increases with workers. He reports that wages for Salmon House staff have increased by as much as 60 percent since the change.

Ivar’s Seafood Restaurants President Bob Donegan told Johnson that the response has “been a surprise.” Donegan notes that Salmon House “customers seem to like it, the employees seem to like it, and it seems to be working, at least in this location.” Donegan was characterized by Josh Feit at Seattle Metropolitan back in April of 2014 as “a known $15 opponent” who “funded the anti–minimum wage campaign in SeaTac,” so this is quite an about face.

Employees back up Donegan’s claims:

Rochelle Hann, 25, is a second-generation worker at Ivar’s. Like her mom, she has performed a variety of roles, including serving, bookkeeping and even dressing up as a giant clam. If she keeps working 30 hours a week, her annual pay will jump about $12,000 — money she’s socking away for accounting classes at a community college.

“Before, I felt like it was maybe not quite paycheck-to-paycheck, but now I don’t even have to worry about it,” she said. “I just went away for the weekend, and it was an easy expense.”

Brett Richards, a 50-year-old singer and guitarist, has worked 25 years in food service, including the past eight at Ivar’s. Before, he made minimum wage, plus tips. Now, he gets $15 an hour, plus a share of the 21 percent menu price increase, plus any additional tips customers leave. He expects to make almost $7,000 more this year, money that’s helping him with his increased rent and with taking his kids out to eat a little more often.

Forgive all the excessive bolding there, but these statements are incredibly important because they prove that the $15 minimum wage is doing exactly what it’s meant to do. These workers are spending the extra money on vacations and restaurants and higher education; in other words, they’re circulating more money through the economy, which in turn adds to the profits of local businesses, which will then invest those profits into their own workers. It’s just more proof that the middle class, and not the top one percent, are the real job creators. Empowering workers with an increased minimum wage helps everybody, from the owners to the newest employees. Seattle’s message to the rest of the country on the $15 minimum wage is clear: it’s working.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.