Multiple small business owners said a proposed Seattle ordinance to protect hotel workers could have unintended consequences if approved.
Shawn Virk is as hot as the oven at Romio's Pizza and Pasta.
"I don't know one city policy that they've created, that has helped us," fumed the owner of the restaurant on Pike street. "They've never owned a business, this entire city council, they've never owned a business."
Virk is angry over new legislation, which actually dates back to 2016, and was crafted to protect hotel workers. Initiative 124 was passed by Seattle voters three year ago, and aimed at providing labor protections for hundreds of workers in the hospitality industry.
However, it was thrown out by an appeals court two years later, and the council has decided to revisit the issue before a Supreme Court review later this year.
One key clause in the legislation has small business owners like Virk mad. The language around providing healthcare expenditures for hotel workers includes a line about ancillary hotel businesses as well. That includes things like restaurants that lease space in a hotel.
"If it's part of the building, if it's part of the footprint that serves those guests, we think that this bill should apply to those workers as well, those entities," said Council member Teresa Mosqueda, in an interview this week. "If it part of the hotel, it is a benefit to the hotel and the guests, that [those workers] have the protection they need."
But multiple small business owners said Mosqueda, and her supporters, have not thought of the complicating ramifications of the language. Virk is leasing space, with a separate entrance and exit, from the Homewood Suites building downtown. He has no connection to the lobby, or guest entrance.
The same holds true for the Biscuit Bitch location on 3rd in Belltown, which is part of a separate space adjacent, but not internally connected to, the Belltown Inn. Owner Kimmie Spice said she already provides healthcare to employees, and her locations are plastered with signs promoting equality and philanthropic efforts.
Yet, she said the council should be "looking at the different workforces, pertaining to benefits".
They've been joined in a chorus of retail and associations, who are taking issue with the 'ancillary' line item. The Downtown Seattle Association, Greater Seattle Business Association, and Seattle's Small Business Advisory Council have all sent letters to the council advocating for an alteration to the language.
UNITE Local 8, the hospitality worker's union, said it has been pleased with the direction of the legislation.
In a statement, union spokesperson Stefan Moritz wrote "Our goal with Initiative 124 and with the legislation currently before City Council is to ensure that One Job is enough for hospitality workers to support their families in Seattle, that they have access to quality affordable health care, while being safe from debilitating injuries in harassment-free workplaces. This legislation will bring us closer to that goal.
The owners of hotel buildings in Seattle are mostly private equity firms, Wall Street real estate investors, and big developers. They must take responsibility for the workers that make them wealthy. Instead, they too often take their money out of our community. We are committed to hold them accountable while we continue working with the City Council to make sure this legislation leads to the best possible outcome for Seattle."
Mosqueda sounds open to amendments, noting the "ink is not dry" on the legislation.
Virk said, if approved in current form, the legislation could add an additional $200,000 a year to his costs, and cripple his business. He said the legislation discussion has left him disenchanted, and wondering openly about the council's attitude towards business owners like him.
After all, he said, he was forced out of an old location by eminent domain, and a bike lane will soon replace the only parking he has outside. This legislation, like a pizza topping, adds to the bottom line.
"It's like someone is taking your child away from you, and there is nothing you can do it about it," he said, voice rising, "You get angry and there is nothing you can do, you're helpless and your hands are tied."