Guest Opinion | Robin Salzer: Tonight’s Minimum Wage Decision by City Council Should Be Fair to All Concerned

Published : Monday, February 11, 2019 | 5:47 AM

Tonight the Pasadena City Council will review the Pasadena Minimum Wage Ordinance that was voted into law in February 2016. The arguments are extremely compelling and passionate on both sides of the issue. The Pasadena Minimum Wage Ordinance followed the lead of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA County to adopt a $15.00 minimum wage in 2020. Maybe Governor Jerry Brown knew a little bit more than some of us when he crafted the State of California minimum wage ordinance to reach $15.00 in 2022. I believe that the Pasadena City Council may have had some preconceived thoughts that an accelerated minimum wage goal could have a hard impact on local small businesses and it has. Maybe that is why a large majority of California cities and many cities that surround Pasadena like Glendale, La Canada Flintridge, Arcadia, South Pasadena, Alhambra, San Marino, Temple City, San Gabriel and Monterey park have decided to follow the state minimum wage timeline. Even the City of Long Beach only months after passing their own new minimum wage ordinance voted to slow the wage increases to match the states timeline. Maybe they also knew a little bit more than some of us, anticipated potential hardships or just wanted to give their local small businesses a fair chance to succeed on the state timeline.

How many employees generally make up a small business?

The majority of our local small businesses are Mom & Pops, family owned, single unit operations and have less than 50 employees.

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) a company with fewer than 500 employees is considered to be a small business. In the Foodservice industry any restaurant with fewer than 50 employees is considered to be a small restaurant.

Tonight there will be 2-3 surveys and 50-60 public comment cards presented to the council for their review and ultimate vote.

Surveys can be very selective, jaded, tone deaf and as many of us in Pasadena read here on Pasadena Now and in many other local news publications they can be branded fraudulent or sent out representing a wrong source. Do these surveys show what the true impact on the last 3 years of wage increases has had on our local businesses with shorter hours of operation, cut backs on staffing, layoffs or lack of new hiring? No they don’t.

Many surveys though not necessarily misleading are often broad brushed soliciting a yes or no answer without delving into the pertinent ramifications that their answers may produce. A survey template that might be used in Berkeley, Seattle or even the City of Los Angeles might not be a fair comparison to Pasadena. Pasadena has arguably more restaurants and non-profits per capita than any city in the United States. It would not be an apples to apples comparison. Unfortunately for some no matter how hard they may try to make it work one size doesn’t fit all.

The actual real life examples of what our local small businesses in Pasadena have had to do to protect the work schedules of their employees and to sustain their individual operations will not be represented in most of these surveys.

At Robin’s we are now closed 4 days a week and open only on weekends. We cut back our staff through attrition from 30 to 22. Nobody was layed off. Our fulltime back of the house staff schedules were protected by staff working off-premise at festivals and catering. The front of the house staff was given a months notice of schedule reductions so they could pick up replacement hours at the other restaurants that they worked at. Almost every server worked at another restaurant. Every schedule reduction was done with respect and dignity. We have not hired any new employees. In total we reduced our work schedule approximately 300 hours per week. Nobody at Robin’s makes the minimum wage except for tipped employees. This example of sustaining a business and protecting employees is being repeated by almost every restaurant that I know of in Pasadena and they all have a story to tell.

The bottom line? Most small businesses in Pasadena operate with less employees who are working less hours. Numbers don’t lie. The small business community in Pasadena is asking the City Council to not have any preconceived notions regarding their ultimate vote pertaining to the wage review tonight and not to base their vote on the number of small businesses and restaurant owners who attend tonight’s meeting.

As most people are finishing up their workday to go home the restaurant owners are going to work to prepare for tonight’s dinner. This is the reason it is so hard to get a large group of restaurateurs to attend a city council meeting to voice their viewpoints and to support their industry. All of us have heard from our council members over and over that the restaurant owners need to be here to show their strength in numbers but like the council they also are working on Monday night’s running their businesses and are relying on those of us who will be at the meeting tonight to represent them while they are at work.

The small business community is not the enemy and honestly there is no enemy with this issue just two sides with a difference of opinion based on the opinions of one side and facts and numbers of the other.

Robin Salzer is a small business owner, a former city council candidate, a former city commissioner and the founder of the Pasadena Hot Meal Program.


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