The call for a $15 minimum wage has been increasingly potent in the past year, with fast-food workers around the country staging protests and plans for a raised minimum wage in Seattle. Now, San Francisco (which already boasts the country's highest minimum wage, at $10.74 an hour) is getting in on the act, with a planned ballot measure in November. But while City Hall is celebrating the proposed increase, which will increase year-by-year and hit the $15 mark in 2018, restaurant and bar owners are livid, threatening diners with an era of $7 beers, $10-and-up sandwiches, and other pricey menu changes if they pass the measure.
In a Chron article that ran yesterday, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and the San Francisco Bar Owners Alliance argue that on top of California's lack of a tip credit, the increased minimum wage could mean $30-40 hourly wages for front-of-house staff, while back-of-house staff (who are more likely to be immigrants, older, and/or have families) won't see much of a change in their take-home pay ($15/hour works out to $31,000 per year). On top of that, the measure will close a loophole in which restaurants and bars are allowed to reclaim any set-aside money that isn't spent on employees, hoping to force them to provide healthcare to their staff instead. "It doesn't seem fair to me that we are being asked to bear this burden," Benjamin Bleiman, the co-owner of the bar empire that includes Tonic, Bullitt, Dr. Teeth, and Wild Hare, told the Chron. He and his compatriots have argued that the ballot measure could have included a loophole for a tip credit at California's lower state minimum wage, but Mayor Ed Lee says that was never on the table.
As a result, local restaurants, whose already small profit margins have been squeezed by rising SF rents and the skyrocketing food prices caused by global warming, say that diners can expect more of the hated surcharges on their bills (potentially rising as high as 15 percent), cost-cutting strategies like touch-screen ordering, and of course, jacked-up prices. GGRA executive director Gwyneth Borden says she also expects to see more restaurants, especially smaller mom-and-pops, hightail it to cheaper precincts like Oakland or the peninsula. But Supervisor David Campos says the GGRA and the SFBOA have had ample chances to make their case to the Board of Supervisors, and not one member has agreed with their arguments. "They have cried wolf before, and they're not very believable," he told the Chron. In any case, don't expect the fervor over this to die down anytime soon, as restaurants will likely be taking their case directly to their customers in the form of price-hike threats.