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Originally published April 1, 2014 at 5:34 PM | Page modified April 2, 2014 at 1:07 PM

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Guest: Dick’s Drive-In proposes a middle ground for the minimum wage

Seattle’s minimum wage should be raised, but in a way that saves local jobs and encourages everyone to upgrade their education and skills, writes guest columnist Jasmine Donovan.


Special to The Times

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THE 15 Now campaign has given our city a great opportunity. Seattle’s minimum wage should be raised, but in a way that saves local jobs and encourages everyone to upgrade their education and skills. The 15 Now proposal does not do this.

For more than 60 years, Dick’s Drive-In has strongly supported high wages and generous benefits. Our employees start at $10.25 an hour — well above our state’s highest-in-the-nation minimum wage — receive regular merit raises, excellent health insurance, $22,000 in scholarships over four years, child-care assistance, bonuses, paid vacations, a 401(k) retirement plan with a 50 percent employer match, paid volunteer time at local charities and other great benefits.

Employees who sign up for Dick’s benefits quickly earn total compensation exceeding $15 per hour. When they earn their degrees and get even better jobs, we celebrate.

At Dick’s, we care about everyone and especially our young people. They are our customers, our employees, our community and, most important, our future.

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, more than 20 percent of Seattle’s teenagers drop out of high school. For disadvantaged teens, especially young men, the dropout rate can be 40 percent. High-school dropouts are among the least qualified job seekers in our state where the overall teenage unemployment rate is already more than 30 percent.

Immediately raising Seattle’s $9.32 minimum wage by more than $5 per hour would make it almost impossible for those with limited skills, education or experience to get their first job, their next job or any job. We must avoid making a bad situation worse.

Seattle is a smart, innovative city and we need a smart minimum wage. A smart minimum wage would not be a one-size-fits-all minimum wage.

Instead, a smart minimum wage would increase as your education and skills increase. For example, if you were a high-school dropout but you earned a GED, your minimum wage should go up. Graduate from high school, and it should go up again. Continue your education and earn a technical certificate, and it should go even higher.

A smart minimum wage would also include the value of tax-free benefits and other compensation. Health insurance and scholarships matter. They provide thousands of dollars of tax-free compensation to employees. Just as important, employers can often purchase these benefits for their employees at a much lower cost than employees can for themselves.

Employees who earn higher taxable wages, but lose valuable tax-free benefits may end up worse off. Similarly, employees who earn higher wages, but lose non-wage income such as tips, bonuses and commissions might not improve their standard of living at all.

My grandfather, Dick Spady, co-founded Dick’s in 1953 with this business philosophy: First, make a profit, because businesses that don’t make a profit cannot help anyone. Second, invest in your employees, because great employees are the most important part of a great business. Third, invest in your community, because your business cannot thrive without a thriving community.

By following this philosophy for 60 years, Dick’s has become a small part of what makes Seattle special.

Today, Seattle is engaged in an important debate on how changing the minimum wage could improve the quality of life of those with limited education, skills and experience. This debate gives Seattle a great opportunity: to create a smart minimum wage that motivates all employers to offer excellent benefits, especially education benefits. A smart minimum wage would also encourage everybody to graduate from high school, continue their education and earn a better living.

Better education, skills and experience are the proven path to prosperity. A smart minimum wage must recognize this.

Jasmine Donovan is the granddaughter of Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants co-founder Dick Spady. Jasmine joined the family business in 2013 after serving six years in the Navy and earning an M.B.A.



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