You Might Be Surprised What JP Biz Owners Say About a Minimum Wage Hike

You’d expect the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to be against raising the minimum wage. And you’d be right. But what about business owners right here in JP?

It’s a more complicated picture than you might think. While it’s true that Jamaica Plain votes well to the left of much of the country, small business bottom lines are still bottom lines.

A proposal to raise the minimum wage in Massachusetts is currently working its way through the legislature.

Brad Brown of Blue Frog Bakery, for one, hopes it doesn’t pass in its current form.

“You have to pay what the job is worth,” said Brown at Wednesday’s meeting of the JP Business and Professional Assoc. “I can’t pay a high school student greasing pans $10 an hour.”

If passed, one version of the current proposal would hike the minimum wage to $9 an hour on July 1, with future raises up to $11 an hour, said John Regan of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

‘You Would See a Ton of Restaurants Go Under’

The owner of one local business well-known for taking good care of its workers, Centre Street Cafe, said the new rules aren’t fair if they would be applied to wait staff. Felicia Sánchez, the longtime proprietor of the bustling restaurant, said she could accept the hike for her back-of-the-house staff, like dishwashers and cooks.

“As much as that would hurt,” she added in a Thursday phone interview, “and as long as the public would understand we’d have to raise prices.”

But wait staff can walk out of a shift with $20-$25 an hour when tips are taken into account. So if, under one scenario, wait staff base pay bumps from $2.65 an hour to $6 or $7 an hour plus tips, it would be disastrous to local restaurants with tight profit margins, she said.

“You would see a ton of restaurants that would go under,” Felicia Sánchez said.

It’s worth mentioning that both Blue Frog and Centre Street Cafe already pay more than the minimum wage. Brown’s staff starts at $9.50 an hour. Felicia Sánchez didn’t want to publicize an exact figure for starting wages at Centre Street Cafe, but told Jamaica Plain News the hourly rate. It’s well above the state’s minimum wage of $8 an hour.

JP Politicians Back Wage Increase

John Regan, Associated Industries of Massachusetts

Chris Helms

John Regan, Associated Industries of Massachusetts

Whatever the opinions JP business owners have about the minimum wage hike or other issues, Regan urged them on Wednesday to reach out to elected officials and make their perspectives known.

Among politicians who represent JP on Beacon Hill, Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, D-Jamaica Plain, has voted for the November Senate version of a minimum wage hike to $11 and also for the current bill in the Senate on May 1.

Rep. Liz Malia, D-Jamaica Plain, also supports raising the minimum wage, said legislative aide Sebastian Zapata. Further, she would like the tip minimum wage increased and is against allowing employers to pay teens beneath the minimum wage.

Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, D-Jamaica Plain, said that he does support raising the minimum wage but he wants to pair that increase with providing help to small businesses on the unemployment insurance front. The house bill combines those two issues in one piece of legislation. Jeffrey Sánchez said he and his office have been trying to stay out front on the minimum wage and other issues affecting small business. For instance, in March he held a roundtable with business owners in JP. The 15th Suffolk representative said he’s heard from some — but not many — Jamaica Plain business owners about the minimum wage.

“It’s upward pressure on them,” Jeffrey Sánchez said.

  • Eric Herot

    The data suggests that concerns about this are overblown. Small business owners *always* predict gloom and doom over minimum wage hikes, and it never happens. The reality is that in most of these industries, wages just don’t make up that significant a portion of the bottom line.