Please, legislators, don’t drive salon owners like me out of business

Julee Broberg is a beauty salon owner in Federal Way.
Julee Broberg is a beauty salon owner in Federal Way.

There are many versions of the American dream. One of them is to own your own business.

The hairdressing industry provides a path for thousands of people to fulfill that dream – as booth renters in a salon, as owners of a salon with booth renters and as owner/stylists who also work in the salon they own.

That dream is under attack. A collection of bills (Senate Bills 5326 and 5513 and House Bill 1515) have been introduced in the state Legislature that could cripple or eliminate the booth renter model – either through outright banishment or by imposing punitive mandates to pay for workers’ compensation and/or unemployment insurance.

Especially concerning to me was the threat that salon owners would be prohibited from working in their own establishment if they lease space to booth renters.

It was only through word of mouth that hairdressers learned of the bills less than a week before the first hearings. And yet more than 1,000 of us – understandably fearing for our livelihood – came to Olympia from across the state last week to attend the hearings and protest the bills.

While the content of these bills keeps changing and some improvements have been made – including pulling SB 5326 – they still have potential to do tremendous harm.

These proposals should be killed, or at least tabled, until more work is done to clarify what they mean to accomplish and to quantify the consequences.

Why the rush? Where is the hue and cry to make these changes? Why no attempt to gather more facts before throwing half-baked (and frightening) bills against the wall to see what sticks?

All we hear is that the bills will “level the playing field” in terms of taxes between salons with booth renters and those with employees. But without clear apples-to-apples facts and figures, it is empty rhetoric.

Much has been made of the fact that many booth renters don’t pay state business-and-occupation taxes, but that is not a special exemption for hairdressers. The current threshold – you pay if your gross revenue exceeds $56,000 – applies to all service professions.

If there is a problem with that, it should be addressed separately.

As for workers’ comp and unemployment insurance, businesses pay those taxes on behalf of employees, but booth renters have no employees.

I have worked in the industry more than 40 years, first as an employee and then as a booth renter. I invested my savings to buy the Federal Way salon where I was leasing a booth 11 years ago.

I’ve spent thousands to improve the salon, signed a long-term lease and have a chair of my own there – all without any inkling that my business model might suddenly be pulled out from under me and those who lease from me.

A dozen beauty professionals lease space at my salon. They don’t work for me; they work for themselves. They have their own keys, set their own hours and prices, dress how they like and buy their own supplies.

All I require is that they maintain necessary licenses and follow state regulations – and of course pay their rent.

They could easily find work as employees, but prefer the greater earning potential and flexibility of being their own boss – often because they want time to care for their children.

Shouldn’t they be free to make that choice? And shouldn’t I be free to work in the salon I own?

As an aside, stylists who work as employees are often paid on commission. If they aren’t cutting hair, they aren’t making money. Yet they’re required to be in the salon their entire shift whether they have customers or not. Maybe lawmakers should try to level that playing field.

My plea to legislators: Please protect my ability – and the ability of thousands of others – to operate my business and serve my clients as I’ve done for the last 11 years.

Julee Broberg is owner/stylist at Shear Magic Hair Salon in Federal Way. She’s a resident of Browns Point.