Immigrant business owners: Wage hike will kill business, force cuts of immigrant workers

by: Joanna Small Updated:

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A coalition of Seattle business owners says jobs that open doors for immigrant workers could be first to disappear if the city approves a $15-an-hour minimum wage. 

As they make their case to the city, KIRO 7 found out just how much of a role immigrants play in the state work force.   It's a big one; immigrants and refugees make up 19 percent of the state's population, and that number is growing.
 
It's a side to the minimum wage debate we haven't heard yet.
 
"These people will be harshly impacted by this law," said Lawrence Pang, the president of the local Chinese Chamber of Commerce, is referring to him and the others sitting around a table inside a Seattle International District restaurant. They are a coalition of immigrant business owners.
 
They say a $15 an hour wage would force them to close businesses, or force them to hire more experienced workers -- something that could leave many in their own communities unemployed.

"We have a lot of new immigrants that arrive here two months before and they're looking for a job, they don't have the lay of the land, they don't speak English -- some don't even read or write and they have very little skills,” says Taylor Hoang, who owns a chain of Vietnamese cafes in the city.
 
 "It's kind of hard you know, you've got to know how to speak English and write English," said immigrant maintenance worker Eric who was skittish to talk to us.  He says he'd love to make $15 an hour, but  Pang says Eric doesn't really need the raise.
 
"Immigrant family are able to live at the much lower livable wage and that actually does not harm us, the fear for losing the job is actually a lot more serious,” Pang said.
 
There's also concern a higher wage could cost many immigrants their welfare benefits, leaving them poorer than they are today.  Business owners have invited city leaders to a meeting Wednesday. 
 
Minimum wage is a hot topic on our Facebook page.  You can go there to weigh in on our poll:  What do you think should happen with the  minimum wage?