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Small business owners return
Ammiano confrontational approach
to worker health care coverage

Andrew Gillen, owner of Q Restaurant, quotes Matt Gonzalez
as saying there are too many restaurants in San Francisco.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Pat Murphy


January 10, 2006

A unanimous procession of small business owners last night seemed uncertain whether to laugh or cry over their latest pigeonhole as society's bankrollers.

For the most part, they laughed in anguish.

The broader issue of how to achieve universal health care had brought them before the San Francisco Small Business Commission.

Their immediate issue arose from federal, state, and city government inability or unwillingness to pay for health care as a universal right. And one local legislator's attempt to expand the number of workers covered whose need is immediate and sometimes desperate.

Locally, thousands of San Franciscans - who work - are without company health insurance, although medical care is guaranteed to all in San Francisco through the city's $1.1 billion public health system.

Public health care, already driving the city budget, remains inadequate to timely full-service care provided by private insurers.

In effect, Supervisor Tom Ammiano set out to fast-forward passed fractious governmental inertia on universal need by turning to the only other funder around - the private sector. Specifically, he turned to San Francisco small business owners.

In turn, they laughed last night at the absurdity of their predicament - local lightweights called upon to lift a heavy duty national yoke.

"I remember when I was talking to Matt Gonzalez, who I supported for mayor, about the minimum wage issue," related Andrew Gillen, owner of Q Restaurant at 225 Clement Street.

"I said, 'Matt, you know, I pay all my cooks more than the minimum wage.'

"And his response was, 'Listen, either raise your prices or go out of business - there're too many restaurants in San Francisco," said Gillen.

"We have 27 employees. I think it comes out to be about $127,000 it would cost us to implement this which is the difference of what we cover now and would be way more money than we've ever made.

"I'm a working chef. I worked my way up. I've been in the business for 27 years. We robbed Peter to pay Paul for the first three years…and that's not uncommon.

"That's not uncommon. That is the kind of restaurant that the city is named for. The kind of neighborhood restaurants that are creative. The kind of restaurants the people love, and that's one of the reasons that we are famous," said Gillen.

All speakers said no, as did the full seven-member commission by unanimous vote.

"I think we should send this back to him. And tell him to shove it," concluded Commissioner Dr. Raye Richardson.

Commissioner Dr. Raye Richardson (right)

Ammiano, by his exclusion of the business community in drafting the legislation, set up acrimony and confrontation from a community heavily favoring universal health care.

"This is a problem we can really solve here," Commissioner Jordanna Thigpen said. "And this is not a problem that the Board of Supervisors can solve."

Commissioner Jordanna Thigpen (left)

"Health Care is a right, it's not a privilege," she continued.

"But this is a task that only the federal government can solve."

The commission will consider at its next meeting a resolution asking that broad-based Task Force on the issue be established.




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