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Franchise Owners' Lawsuit Challenges Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage

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Franchise owners have followed through on their threat to sue the city of Seattle over the new $15 minimum wage ordinance. They say they’re small business owners who are being unfairly treated as large corporations under the new law.

The city of Seattle may be in for a tough legal fight. The International Franchise Association’s lead attorney is Paul Clement, former solicitor general of the U.S. The choice likely reflects the deep pockets of the association, whose members include McDonald’s, Subway and Burger King.

Attorney Chris Bartolomucci says Seattle’s law requires franchisees to pay the higher wage more quickly than independent competitors.

“This really is the first of its kind in hiking the minimum wage, but doing so in a discriminatory manner with respect to franchisees. So this law and this lawsuit are both breaking new ground,” he said.

Franchise owners say it’s unfair to consider them big businesses. They just pay a fee to their national network, but they bear all the business risk.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says the whole impetus for raising the minimum wage was to address concerns raised by fast food workers employed by franchised restaurants. And he says franchises get substantial help from their national chains.

“They have a food supply and products that are provided by a corporate national entity, training provided by a corporate national entity, advertising provided by a corporate national entity. They’re not the same as a local sandwich shop that opens up,” he said.  

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.