As the fight for a $15 minimum wage heats up in the state legislature, Juliet’s Katrina Jazayeri has emerged as one of the business owners advocating for the boost.
Supporters of the change argue that the state’s current minimum, $11 an hour, doesn’t constitute a living wage. While Massachusetts currently ties Washington for the highest statewide minimum wage (in some other states cities have higher minimums than other regions), high costs of living in the Greater Boston area can offset residents’ purchasing power.
A living wage in Middlesex County for two adults, one working and one not working, with two children is about $25 an hour, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator. For two working adults with two children, it is $17.38 an hour.
The petition calls for annual $1 hikes through 2022 until the minimum wage hits $15 an hour. Massachusetts’s current minimum wage was reached through three annual $1 steps up from $8 an hour.
It also pushes for the minimum wage to continue to adjust with inflation. Historically, this has been a problem at both state and federal levels. The 1968 minimum wage in 2016 dollars was $8.68, compared to today’s minimum wage of $7.25, according to the Pew Research Center.
The petition would also radically increase the tipped minimum wage. The minimum wage for tipped workers, which is currently $3.75, would rise to $9 by 2022.
Advocates aim to push the proposal onto the 2018 ballot if lawmakers don’t pass it in the legislature.
Jazayeri is a lead signatory on the petition, and recently advocated for the legislation at the State House.
She and co-owner Josh Lewin have formed their business model around providing their employees with fair wages and treatment.
The duo have eliminated tipping. They know from personal experience some of the issues that tipping can bring—unreliable income, pressure to overwork yourself, and a more complicated income tax process. Lewin also pointed out that, as a white man, he never faced the discrimination that many women, immigrants, and people of color experience in tip-based jobs.
Despite their belief in a $15 minimum wage, Lewin and Jazayeri have not yet been able to reach that mark for their employees.
“Being a tiny place like this and being the only one in the area that’s not taking tips, we have saddled ourselves with a huge labor budget that our competitors don’t have. There’s only so much that the market will bear,” Lewin says.
Rather than paying employees certain wages, Juliet operates on a profit-sharing model. They show their employees how the business is doing and even help teach them to read financial reports.
Lewin and Jazayeri hope this model will build a loyal, long-term staff, which can reduce the time and financial costs of turnover. So far, they say, it’s working—in the year-and-a-half that they’ve been open, only one employee has left to work at another restaurant.
Stephen Mackey, president of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce—a local business association unaffiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—is concerned that increases to the minimum wage would put additional strain on some small businesses. He encourages voters to do holistic research so they can make informed decisions should the matter go to the ballot.
“[Somerville] does have a high cost of living. It also has a high cost of doing business,” he says. “We’re looking at a real estate transfer fee that the city is proposing. We’re looking at a jobs linkage fee. Businesses already pay a higher commercial tax rate than residential, so all of these costs begin to add up.”
But Juliet’s owners argue that a higher minimum wage would not necessarily be a burden on local small business owners.
“If you can provide your staff a prosperous, stable, safe, and respectful work environment where you’re able to pay your bills, you’re able to pay for the future, you’re able to pay down your student loans—if you can be the employer who provides that to your staff, they’re going to want to stay,” Jazayeri says. “As small business owners, it’s turnover and retraining of staff that takes up so much of our time and takes away from growing the business.”