Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour did not cause massive disruption to Seattle’s business community and neither will the proposed head tax to support the homeless.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and I share one thing in common: Both of us have businesses headquartered in Seattle.
But our similarities end there. My business, Squirrel Chops, a neighborhood-based coffee shop and hair salon, is like many other small businesses trying to make a contribution in a city where our employees are struggling to make ends meet.
Amazon, a global behemoth, made $5.6 billion in U.S. profits last year alone. Bezos personally is worth $130 billion, and is now the richest man in the world.
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In contrast, my wife and I had to move out of the rapidly gentrifying Central District, where our business is based, just to save money and keep the doors of Squirrel Chops open.
When I talk with other progressive small business owners, many share similar stories about employees who can no longer afford to live here, staff who are forced to spend more precious money and time commuting to work. We have only one employee still able to live in the city with his spouse solely because on top of his other work, he also manages the building he lives in to help ease the rental burden.
While the rich get richer, Amazon and its stakeholders are building a new cityscape but only for those who can afford to live in the shadow of their enormous profits. Even many of Amazon’s own employees, like warehouse workers and Prime drivers, are struggling to stay housed in the area.
The widening economic crisis and the fact that rental rates in this city have increased by 65 percent since 2010 have hit home for my business and the friends and neighbors that walk through our doors each day. More than 10,000 people are homeless in King County, far more are struggling to keep their housing, pay their taxes and keep food on the table.
And there would be a far greater crisis were it not for the incredible work that social services have done with the insufficient money they’ve been given. The size of this problem is too enormous for the funds the city has access to, and skyrocketing rental increases and gridlock are directly linked to the power and special treatment of wealthy corporations doing business here. Much more must be done.
Waiting for charity from the rich to provide for our citizen’s basic human needs is an unsustainable and undemocratic model and clearly, as the statistics of widening inequality has shown, does not work.
The largest possible employee hours tax ($150 million per year) would affect only 3 percent of the biggest businesses — businesses that are enjoying a massive tax cut from President Donald Trump while small business struggles with Seattle’s skyrocketing commercial rents — and would make the wealthiest among us help address our city’s crisis in affordable housing.
Amazon’s threat to scale back its corporate footprint is a shameful attempt to avoid contributing to civic revenue. This is just like the anti-$15-minimum-wage rhetoric and, as we’ve seen, the economy kept right on growing. My business has seen an increase in profits since then, but more importantly it’s a necessary boost to my employees’ pockets as they fight to carve out their space in what’s becoming a playground for the rich.
In the time it takes the employees of Squirrel Chops to set up and close down our coffee machine for the day, Amazon will have made $20 million in profits. That’s about how much would be required of them in one year if the proposed head tax is passed.
Progressive small business owners like me have worked hard to put our dreams into reality in this increasingly unequal city. Unlike Jeff Bezos, we have to look into the faces of our employees each day, who are struggling because Seattle’s big business-takes-all approach has favored the super rich.
I support a $150 million head tax, with no big-business loopholes. In reality, this is just the beginning of what’s needed: a massive expansion of high-quality, publicly owned housing for working people. I hope you will join me at the March on Amazon, Saturday, May 12, at 11 a.m., starting at Seattle Central College, to stand up to Bezos’ bullying and to win this urgently needed progressive tax.