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$15 minimum wage kicks in for thousands of Seattle workers

Karam Maan says his Subway franchise has been hit hard by wage increases in Seattle
KUOW Photo/Kate Walters
Karam Maan says his Subway franchise has been hit hard by wage increases in Seattle

Thousands of Seattle workers got a raise on January 1 when the city's minimum wage increased to $15 per hour.

The raise is for people working at Seattle's companies with more than 500 employees worldwide.

And many workers say the bump makes a big difference.

Sylvia Liang is a home care worker. She said it feels good to be properly compensated for her work. She also said the higher minimum wage is having an impact in the broader Chinese-American community.

“Many of us no longer have to take a second job. We can save a little money and we have more time with our families,” Liang said.

A higher minimum wage makes a difference for Claudia Noon, too. Noon suffers from chronic physical and mental health conditions. She works at Central Co-op and said earning $15 per hour helps her to live a better life.

“Things like medical tests or therapy bills can easily become a big chunk of what a paycheck is spent on, even with insurance. This can become isolating as it can often feel like you are merely living paycheck to paycheck and are unable to engage in basic leisure activities that many take for granted,” Noon said.

Noon said it’s also nice to know she can participate economically in her community.

“It’s nice to feel like I’m not merely subsisting or living for myself, but I’m someone who has the ability to make a positive impact on my community,” she said.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Claudia Noon and Sylvia Liang both earn $15 per hour thanks to Seattle's minimum wage law.", "fid": "132624", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201701/IMG_20170105_105107.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Kate Walters"}]]It's different for people like Karam Maan. He owns a Subway franchise on Aurora Ave.

Franchises are categorized by the number of people within the entire network, so despite only having a couple of employees at his store, the new $15 minimum wage applies to Maan's business.

He said he's had to cut back staffing, and he's making personal sacrifices to keep the store open.

"I've been working seven days a week just to make ends meet. And this year, we increased the prices of the sandwiches again, which I hate doing, but there's no choice," Maan said.

Maan said he may also have to cut his business hours, like by opening two hours later or "whatever it takes to hopefully keep going.”

This mixture of love and hate for the $15 minimum wage tracks with the actual impact, according to researchers at the University of Washington.

They say so far it's been a mixed bag for employees and employers across the city. There are actually four minimum wages in Seattle currently.

Businesses with more than 500 employees must pay $15 per hour, or $13.50 per hour if the company pays towards their employees’ medical benefits.

Smaller businesses must pay $13 per hour, or $11 per hour if they pay at least $2 per hour towards their employees’ medical benefits, or the employee makes $2 per hour in tips.

Seattle's minimum wage will continue to increase for workers at small companies. All workers will hit $15 in 2021.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said he sees positive impacts of higher wages in the city.

“When families earn more money, they have more money to spend in local businesses. So by providing good-paying jobs, we’re providing a way for businesses to prosper," he said.

Seattle led the nation in 2014 with the decision to phase in a $15 per hour minimum wage.

Kate Walters can be reached at Have a story idea? Use our story pitch form.

Year started with KUOW: 2015