As fast-food workers demonstrate nationwide for a $15 hourly wage, and congressional Republicans fight off a $10 federal minimum, little SeaTac has something to offer the debate. Its neighbor, Seattle, was the first big city to approve a $15 wage, this spring, but that doesn't start phasing in until next year. SeaTac did it all at once. And, though there's nothing definitive, this much is clear: The sky did not fall. "SeaTac is proving trickle-down economics wrong," says David Rolf, the Service Employees International Union official who helped lead the $15 effort in SeaTac and Seattle, "because when workers prosper, so do communities and businesses."
In Seattle last week, I stopped in at the jammed Palace Kitchen, flagship of Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas, who runs upward of 15 establishments. He warned in April that the $15 wage could "be the most serious threat to our ability to compete," and he predicted that "we would lose maybe a quarter of the restaurants in town." Yet Douglas has opened, or announced, five new restaurants this year. Likewise, the International Franchise Association has sued to block implementation of the law, arguing that nobody "in their right mind" would become a franchisee in Seattle. Yet Togo's sandwiches, a franchise chain, is expanding into Seattle, saying the $15 wage isn't a deterrent. And a spokesman for Weyerhaeuser, the venerable wood and paper company, says the $15 wage didn't factor into its decision, announced last month, to move its headquarters and 800 employees to Seattle from outside Tacoma.