Exemptions reviewed in Seattle's minimum wage battle

Exemptions reviewed in Seattle's minimum wage battle »Play Video

SEATTLE -- As the city moves forward on a $15 minimum wage, workers and merchants are squaring off over a list of exemptions to include.

AT Pike Place Market, merchants compete shoulder to shoulder as customers flock for that iconic Seattle shopping experience. However, if the city raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour some workers think it could keep customers away.

"It's going to raise prices. People aren't going to shop where employees are getting paid 15 buck an hour," said David Habakangas, who works at one of the produce stands at Pike Place Market.

City leaders began sorting out these kinds of concerns, and looking at whether the plan by Mayor Ed Murray needs any changes. The mayor would allow large businesses to phase-in a $15 an hour wage over three to four years, depending on benefits. Smaller businesses will have five to seven years.

A Subway sandwich franchise owner told councilmembers he only has a handful of employees and can't meet the phase-in timetable of large businesses.

"We pay a fee to use their name and then every single thing after that comes out of our pockets," said Matthew Hollek.

Advocates with "$15 Now" held signs in the packed hearing. A spokesperson stood firm on exemptions.

"Franchises need to be included with big business," said Jess Spar with $15 Now. "They are signing on to these big businesses because they are buying into that model, that name, and they are profiting off of that."

Councilmembers are considering other exceptions or delays for non-profits, and for merchants who hire teenagers or the disabled.

Some business owners say the changes could force them under, but higher wage supporters say they've heard this doomsday talk before, and don't buy it now.

"All the studies done on the minimum wage increases, and there are hundreds of them, show that it's good for workers and it's good for business," Spar said.

One last topic was how much to fine businesses for not paying minimum wage. The council is looking over all these potential amendments and will meet again May 29th to decide which, if any, to pursue.