Saturday, June 21, 2014

Seattle's Bold Minimum Wage Experiment, Jamie Ford Quote and Downton Abbey Tidbits

So my adopted home city of Seattle has been at the forefront of the new $15 minimum wage movement, which they have three years to fully enact. A lot of business owners are saying that this will end their business, but I think paying a fair wage to workers is a wonderful idea. It’s not cheap to live in the Puget Sound, so anything to alleviate poverty and give working people a fighting chance is good with me.  I realize that this isn’t my normal fare for this blog, but since it effects bookstores and libraries, I think it has relevance here.

Seattle Indies: Maximum Concern About Minimum Wage

On June 2, the City Council of Seattle, Wash., voted to raise the city's
minimum wage to an unprecedented $15 per hour over the next seven years.
Seattle businesses, depending on number of employees and current
benefits, have varying deadlines to phase in the wage
increases--businesses with more than 500 employees have until 2018,
while businesses with 500 employees or fewer have until 2021. And by
April of next year, businesses with 500 or fewer employees must pay at
least $11 per hour to employees who receive only wages as compensation
and at least $10 per hour to employees who receive tips or benefits in
addition to their wages. With no U.S. model to look toward, Seattle
business owners, including independent booksellers, face a great deal of

"What we know is that our expenses are going to go up starting next
year," said Peter Aaron, owner of Elliott Bay Book Company He described his reaction to the minimum wage increase as one of cautious optimism--from a social justice
perspective, it's a great thing for workers in an increasingly
unaffordable city, and it could result down the road in more people with
more money to buy more books. But there are many questions.

"If there is an increase in sales from an overall improvement to the
economy and the strengthening of our customer base, then it will have a
neutral to a beneficial effect," Aaron explained. "The worry is if it
goes too far, too fast, the negative effect of job loss--by virtue of
companies that can't afford the higher wages having to reduce staff or
relocate--dominates the positive effect of wage increases."

Aaron reported that he's spoken to many other small business owners in
Seattle about the wage increases and responses have been varied.
"Reactions have covered the spectrum from 'this is the end of the world'
to 'this is the greatest thing that's happened since the American
Revolution,' " he said.

"We're all supportive of the fact that Seattle is a very expensive place
to live and that people should be paid fair wages," said Lara Konick,
human resources director for University Book Store
UBS, the vote to raise the city's minimum wage coincided with an
internal, store-wide compensation analysis. "Long term, it will improve
living standards for people living in Seattle and for the people who
work for us," she said. "Those are great things."

At the same time, however, like Aaron, Konick is concerned. Although the
minimum wage hike could result in more people with more money to buy
books, she's worried that the extra money will be swallowed up by living
expenses. "People are already squeezed on rent and food," she said. "I
think [the extra money] is going to go to living costs, to just allow
them to keep up. But hopefully more of that money will stay in people's
wallets for things like books."

Ultimately, Konick continued, UBS will follow the letter of the law and
do what it needs to do. "We're going to be looking very hard at hours
and schedules and staff needs," she said. "Our goal is to not lay people
off or make any sweeping changes."

Robert Sindelar, the managing partner of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and Ravenna, Wash.,is in an unusual situation: the Ravenna store is in Seattle, but the
Lake Forest Park store lies outside of city limits. He is trying to
figure out the implications of the wage increase on the separate stores.

"We have a company-wide policy on health insurance," Sindelar said.
"Legally I have to look into it, whether I can have one policy for one
store and another for the other store. I'd rather not change these
things, but it looks like at some point I'm going to have to adjust.

"In general, when I'm looking at our business, it's not necessarily a
good thing for our business or our employees," he continued. Third Place
Books, Sindelar explained, offers a competitive health-care package and
a 401(k) plan, and, among other discretionary expenses, also pays for
its employees' bus passes. As costs rise due to the wage increase,
Sindelar worries, these benefits may be at risk. He also wondered
whether it was a better value to employees to pay them an extra $2
directly and have taxes taken out of it, or to put that same $2, before
taxes, into health insurance coverage. "As you start increasing what you
have to pay employees based on the law, we have to look at decreasing
the other money we spend on employees," he said. "At the end of the day,
total compensation will probably be a little less. That doesn't feel
very good."

Sindelar acknowledged the potential long-term benefits that a higher
minimum wage could have for Seattle, but is worried about short-term
effects and the lack of any model. "There's no case study," he said.
"Seattle is going to be the case study. I think in the short term, this
is probably going to scare small business entrepreneurs from opening....
It's scary enough for us."

Tom Nissley, who bought Santoro's Books earlier this spring and will
re-open it shortly as Phinney Books, didnot expect the wage increase to have much of an effect on his store. In a decision that he said was totally unrelated to the minimum wage
increase, he plans to keep staff to a minimum after re-opening. He did
say, however, that he doesn't anticipate the wage increase to hinder
future hiring. Despite the myriad uncertainties, he said he  supports
the increase.

"We're all of the opinion that our booksellers are more than worth it,"
said Janis Segress, co-owner and manager of Queen Anne Book Company

"As a co-owner and manager, it's all about overhead," Segress continued.
"In order to compensate, there'd have to be cuts in other areas. Not
sure if that means smaller inventory on the floor, or cutting back on
office supplies, or not offering bags or bottled water, or start
charging for gift wrapping. But for a small store, it's those little
things that count."

Segress is optimistic that the higher minimum wage will result in more
money in people's pockets, but with the slim margins of a small
business, she's worried about surviving the transition. "Because of our
size, we have seven years to put this into effect," she said. "Hopefully
within seven years we'll be making enough money to absorb it." --Alex

Jamie Ford has the right of it!
"[W]e need more bookstores and libraries. They're tactile. They're
immersive. They're humane. They've always been trendy. But more than
that, they are staffed by dedicated booklovers who curate collections of
actual books, and books are the written record of the human condition.
So buy online, but also buy local when you can--that way you're
supporting a healthy literary ecosystem.

"After all, I met my wife at the public library and proposed in a
bookstore. And you can't do that on a Kindle. (Though I'm sure someone
is working on it)."

--Author Jamie Ford
in a post on the Hive blog 

Delicious Downton Abbey is coming back, though next year, and I live for these little tidbits about one of my favorite shows, which just also happens to be a favorite show around the world.

The Hollywood Reporter offered a first look at the upcoming season of
Downton Abbey
"as it goes on location to England's Highclere Castle
with stars Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville and Maggie Smith, creator
Julian Fellowes and more.... As they wait to film another of Downton's
carefully appointed dining scenes, the cast and crew reflect on the
streak of success none of them could have imagined."

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