Good intentions are clearly driving the mandatory paid sick leave proposal currently being studied by the Seattle City Council. As a restaurant employee, this is an issue that interests and affects me on a personal level. However, the reality is that the proposal being considered creates too high a cost for small businesses such as Ray’s Boathouse, my employer. If enacted, this proposal could hurt the very people it aims to protect.
A new requirement such as this runs the risk of costing jobs — quite possibly my own. At Ray’s we currently have 145 employees, and we expect to add another 40 crewmembers to our team for the summer season. The estimated cost that Ray’s would incur if this proposal becomes law is $56,000 to $65,000 annually. This is a daunting expense, especially when our profit margins are barely 3 percent. Like many industries, we are constantly being hit with increased costs for delivery, fuel, utilities, food/drink products, labor, health-care and insurance. We would have no choice but to cut jobs and hire fewer people for our busy season in order to accommodate this added expense.
Despite its objective, this proposal has the great potential to harm employees rather than help them. At Ray’s we care deeply about the well-being of our employees, and we provide them with the best benefits that we can. We currently offer health and dental insurance for employees and their family members at a 50 percent cost, paid vacation time, discounts, 401(k) and a free health club membership. If this proposal becomes a requirement for businesses, Ray’s will have no choice but to cut these benefits and increase the share our employees pay for health care, as well as reduce staff and hours.
Unfortunately, this proposal does not take into account the flexibility of the restaurant industry. If someone is sick, they are able to easily swap shifts with a fellow crew member. This not only allows the employee to take a sick day when needed, but also to take vacation days without losing any wages.
I have given this proposal a lot of serious thought. I am a single mother and have spent plenty of time as an hourly worker myself, worrying about whether I could afford to take time off if my son or I got sick. The reality is that I have always been able to make up any lost time, and I am fortunate to be employed by a company that would take care of me if anything very serious happened. A one-size-fits-all mandate like this is so expensive that it would actually take away my company’s ability to care for its employees.
I understand the goal of this proposal; however, it is really easy to give away someone else’s money in the name of a good idea. Seattle’s restaurateurs would greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with the Seattle City Council on coming up with a better solution to help business owners and operators provide more benefits for their employees, rather than mandating an ordinance that hurts rather than helps.