They have backed efforts to address climate change, held countless fundraisers for local causes and been staunch supporters of progressive political candidates including President Barack Obama—but one thing they can't fully get behind is the push for a swift and sharp increase in the minimum wage.
Some small-business owners in liberal-leaning cities such as Seattle and San Francisco are finding themselves in a conundrum when it comes to the latest hot-button political issue: Philosophically, they may agree with the concept of boosting the minimum wage significantly, but pragmatically, they worry any drastic mandate could put them out of business.
"We do have to do something in this country about the disparity between minimum wage and living wage," said Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas. Douglas serves on the board of directors of a local food bank, and recently hosted a fundraiser for victims of the nearby Oso landslide.
But Douglas said he's already learned the hard way that he simply can't afford to raise base wages quickly for his approximately 800 workers—and especially his employees, who pocket tips—to a minimum of $15 an hour, as is being proposed in Seattle.
For businesses accustomed to aligning with their liberal customers' beliefs on issues such as buying locally grown ingredients or composting food waste, the wage debate can feel like they are being stretched in two directions.
"A lot of small businesses are scared to come at it because of the backlash," said Judith Gille, the founder and co-owner of City People's Mercantile, a 35-year-old local Seattle retailer.
Speak out against the popular measures to increase pay, and businesses risk alienating customers and even employees. Stay silent, and some worry the high costs could push them out of business.
"We just want people to understand the reality: That small businesses are working on small margins, that this will have a huge impact and, in some instances, if (the minimum wage) was raised too quickly, some businesses would go out of business," said Hut Landon, executive director of the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchant Alliance.
In San Francisco, long known for its progressive stances, labor leaders are pushing proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 in the coming years, up nearly 40 percent from $10.74 currently. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee also has said he would support some sort of increase in the city's minimum wage.
In Seattle, another left-leaning city known for its strong commitment to things such as composting and bike lanes, the city's newly elected Socialist city council member, Kshama Sawant, has made it her mission to raise the minimum wage to $15 immediately for big businesses, and over a few years for smaller ones. That's a roughly 60 percent increase from the current statewide rate of $9.32.
The wage increase also has the support of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, although his plan calls for a longer phase-in period and more credits toward that wage for things such as tips and health-care coverage.
Both Seattle proposals gives smaller-business owners a longer time to reach the threshold, but some argue that's not much help because they have to compete for workers with larger businesses, which will then be offering higher wages.
Minimum wage increases are opposed by the large industry lobbying groups, including the National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association. But many local business owners in these cities say they are taking a more nuanced stand.
Both Gille and Douglas say they support the stymied effort to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from $7.25 currently. Both also would support a plan to gradually raise wages to $15 an hour over a period of years, along with a plan to count factors such as tips and health-care benefits toward that compensation amount.
"I'm all for raising the minimum wage," Gille said. "I'm not for going to $15 an hour on January 1."