Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

April 3, 2014

Fantagraphics Watching Seattle's $15/Hour Minimum Wage Debate

I hope you'll let me blog my way through this, because I don't think this is a story that's served by the kind of firm, line-in-sand rigidity of a formal news article -- not yet, anyway. There appears to be serious traction in Seattle, Washington for the potential passage of a $15/hour minimum wage law. The nearby airport community Sea/Tac passed a ballot initiative moving them in that direction, the mayor seems to be on board somewhat, and there are champions for the cause in city council. I'm not exactly able to gauge where things stand, but it looks like we're at the "gathering momentum" stage on the pro side and the "businesses suggest alternatives" on the "whoa, whoa, whoa" side. There's a lot of work to do. For instance, there's generally an issue with minimum wage laws concerning how to deal with employees that make money from gratuities, how that compensation is counted if it's counted at all. That would have to be figured out. I would also imagine that the general progressive nature of many Seattle employers will have an effect on the way the issue is considered. Like most tough issues there's a barrage of argumentation on all sides where various degrees of bad faith are assumed and arguments are shifted from the point being debated to stronger places of purchase. If the national Republican party continues to fray at its ultra-conservative seams, we may see a national debate about a simplified tax code that will take shape along the same lines.

If you're interested in reading about this issue as it is currently being debated, I'd maybe start with one of what I'm sure are many articles at The Stranger and then work your way through the links at the bottom of your first piece and take down some names and get to googling.

It occurred to me while flashing through an article or two in the limited time I have for such things right now that I know an employer that would be affected. Fantagraphics has been in Seattle for more than two decades now, and has traditionally hired a big chunk of its staff from the same local pool of young people that might work at the kind of businesses under more direct scrutiny with this law. I reached out to Fantagraphics Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds, and he confirmed that they have been following the debate closely. Reynolds said that while he didn't want to speak for an en-route-to-New-York Gary Groth with too much specificity, that his sense is that Fantagraphics is both generally in favor of the minimum wage being raised significantly and fearful that raising it all the way to $15 would, when combined with other financial factors that are having an effect on medium-sized business in terms of taxes and healthcare costs, make things more difficult for them. If a measure passed at the $15, they would likely consider a variety of options, including potentially recalibrating some positions in the office. My take is that they're quite happy with the current group, too, and would like to avoid any significant changes to basic infrastructure in any and every way possible. They've recently advertised for a junior designer. I imagine they'll be more than fine, and my hunch is that a different measure will pass in part because of input from business owners like Gary Groth.

I said during their crowd-funding campaign and stand behind it now that Fantagraphics always struck me as an honorable company in terms of not funneling money away from its workers to benefit people not doing work or in a way that vastly overvalued one kind of work over another. I had paid healthcare when I was there, too, during a time in the 1990s when the big companies seemed hellbent on blowing the industry's brains out and there was barely enough money to print books. But they are a business, and they have business concerns, and this is one to keep an eye on.
posted 2:05 am PST | Permalink

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