Spokane business owners say they are increasing education efforts in the community to try to persuade city residents to vote no on the looming Proposition 1 ballot measure also known as the Worker Bill of Rights.
Meanwhile, Greater Spokane Incorporated, in collaboration with its members and other business organizations, has stepped up its marketing campaign with hopes that the public will reject the measure.
Prop. 1 is a proposed amendment to the Spokane City Charter that, through four components, would create enforceable rights to a family wage, ensure equal pay, prevent wrongful termination, and allow worker’s rights to supersede corporate powers.
Many local business owners say they are dedicating time at work—specifically through the use of employee staff meetings—to inform workers about the impacts they believe Prop. 1 will have on business.
An opposition website created at protectspokanejobs.com lists a broad range of groups and businesses that are voicing concern about the negative fallout they believe will occur if the measure passes. The businesses include manufacturers, financial institutions, real estate brokerages, accounting firms, contractors, and restaurants. Opponents listed there also include a range of elected officials, among them both Democrats and Republicans, and a large number of individuals, including business owners and other professionals.
Opponents of the measure formed what they call a “grassroots” coalition to seek to educate voters about the measure.
Tricia Webster, marketing and communications manager at GSI, says public forums including supporters and opponents of Prop. 1 have been and will continue to be held until the election. Both sides had booths at the recent annual Pig Out In The Park event at Riverfront Park downtown, and GSI members are going door-to-door to educate the public about why they believe the initiative will have a negative impact on businesses and employment here.
Webster says GSI will begin television ads at the end of this week encouraging the public to vote no on the measure.
Meanwhile, business owners say they are doing their part to educate employees about the detrimental impact of Prop. 1 on businesses. Jenny Schuetzle, owner of the 14th and Grand Salon on Spokane’s South Hill, says she and her office manager dedicate time to educate staff about the measure during employee staff meetings.
Schuetzle’s salon is one of the businesses listed on the opposition’s website. She stopped short of saying Prop. 1 would put her out of business. However, she says it would have a detrimental effect on how she’s operated for the last three decades.
Schuetzle cites the recent example of a stylist she fired. Prop. 1 says employers would have to prove they have a “fair, objective, and non-discriminatory termination process” that lets workers oppose the termination.
“She was a bad seed. Simple as that,” Schuetzle says of the former employee. “She downgraded the salon to customers. She stirred up trouble among staff. At one point, she didn’t talk to any of us for a month. We had to fire her for the good of the business. To be forced to keep someone like that on your staff is going to send your valuable employees and customers away.”
Schuetzle employs 30 workers, and the average salary at her salon is $17 per hour. Her company offers medical and dental coverage, life insurance, individual retirement accounts, paid vacation, and education training.
“I’m all for having equality, but I’m not for a government mandate telling us how to do it,” she says.
The Worker Bill of Rights is an initiative forged by Envision Worker Rights, a political sister organization to Envision Spokane. Envision Spokane contends on its website that Prop. 1 would generate a net fiscal gain for the city, and the overall community would benefit.
Envision Worker Rights also predicts on its website that raising wages would increase revenue amounts collected for utilities, lead to higher sales tax revenues due to more disposable income, and thereby also generate more parking meter and parking ticket revenue.
Envision Worker Rights also asserts that increasing salaries would reduce the need for public assistance funded or managed in part by the city.
Founded by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Envision Spokane is made up of more than two-dozen unions, community organizations and groups. The group has tried three times to pass community bill of rights measures—in 2009, 2011, and 2013. The 2009 measure was rejected by 80 percent of the voters, 2011 failed by 2 percentage points and the 2013 version was removed from the ballot after a legal challenge by the business community.
GSI President and CEO Steve Stevens wants to see Spokane residents have higher wages, but he argues that Prop. 1 isn’t the way to ensure that.
“We want to see higher wages via an increase in education and training for residents,” Stevens says.
GSI’s Board of Trustees voted earlier this year to oppose Prop. 1, he says.
“Our job is to help current businesses expand and recruit new ones to Spokane,” Stevens says, adding, “We’re fearful that if Prop. 1 passes, we’ll stand out nationally in a negative way. Business expansion won’t occur and outside companies would no longer consider relocating here. We want to help people understand this is a job killer.”
Workers employed by an employer with 150 or more full-time equivalent employees would be paid, at minimum, a family wage to be determined by city officials. An analysis by the right-leaning Washington Policy Center estimates that amount would end up being between $11.85 and $28.11 per hour.
On its website, GSI writes that it’s concerned about the cost of implementation, cost of enforcement and the legal challenges that will come if it’s approved.
Michael Cathcart, government affairs director for the Spokane Homebuilders Association who helped spearhead a grassroots campaign to defeat Envision Spokane’s first initiative attempt, says he’s heard anecdotally that Prop. 1 would pass if the election were held right now.
“We believe we have intelligent voters in Spokane County,” Cathcart says. “We’re not telling them how to vote. But the way Prop. 1 is worded, who would not be for something like that? That’s why the vote no on Prop. 1 education campaign is so important. People need to understand just what is at stake.”
Star Financial & Insurance Services Inc. owner Melissa Williams says small businesses face the strong prospect of having to shut down. Her company, which is a little more than two years old, has four full-time employees. Two employees average $13.50 per hour, while the other two are paid exclusively on commission.
“In order to create a mandatory living wage, do I have to eliminate other positions in order to do that?” Williams says.
Williams says she’s also concerned that Prop. 1 would prohibit business owners from financially rewarding exceptional talent, hard workers, and those with seniority.
Michael Senske, owner of Pearson Packaging, says he agrees with Williams.
“Will we be able to recognize exceptional performance?” he says. “The way it is written seems very vague to me.”
He worries about the impact Prop. 1 would have on Spokane and the state of Washington.
“It’s not something that businesses around the country would look at favorably. I’d be concerned about the ability to recruit new business and retain existing ones,” Senske says.
He adds, “I think it’s a well-intentioned measure that will have unintended consequences if it passes.”
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