SEATAC — A heated battle for a $15 minimum wage is raging this election season in the city of SeaTac. On Tuesday, voters there will decide on Proposition 1, a big hike in pay for airport workers and other SeaTac-area employees. A win could spread the movement to other Washington cities.
“If you are working for a living, you should be able to make a living,” said Heather Weiner, spokeswoman for the SeaTac minimum wage campaign
Right now the state’s minimum wage is $9.19 an hour. For years, labor unions have tried to get Sea-Tac International Airport to raise it for the workers there, to no avail. So, they have gone to the people with an initiative to try for it at the ballot box.
If city voters approve a $15 minimum, it would apply to most airport workers, as well as those in airport-related industries, including the large nearby hotels, rental car agencies, and parking lots.
“These are corporations, multi-national corporations, many of them foreign owned, many of them making record-level profits that can afford and, in fact, should be paying people who work for them a living wage,” Weiner said. “Fifteen dollars an hour in our view is just barely what you need to get by and to feed your family.”
A number of small businesses in the SeaTac area have banded together to defeat the measure.
“These jobs were never intended to be lasting jobs that you support a family on,” said Mike West, former chairman of the Southwest King County Chamber of Commerce. “You have to get in at the bottom, get your foot in the door and work your way up, with education and training.”
In addition to a $15 minimum wage, this SeaTac measure would mandate paid sick leave and require employers to offer part-time workers more hours before hiring additional employees.
“It’s anti-business, and it will scare business away,” said Daryl Tapio, a SeaTac resident and business owner. “If we have a minimum wage that is $5-$6 higher than the city just a mile away, and we have six cities that surround SeaTac, we’re going to be at a competitive disadvantage.”
Weiner denies that raising the minimum wage will hurt business and jobs.
“That’s what we hear, the sky is falling, all the time whenever anybody tries to raise the wages or help workers,” said Weiner. “What we see over and over again is actually the opposite. More jobs are created. More money goes back into our local economy.”
Even though SeaTac is a relatively small town, only about 25,000 residents, this battle is getting a ton of attention. Already campaign spending has reached $2 million. Labor unions clearly hope this fight will encourage other area cities, perhaps even Seattle, to do the same. Given the amount of money opponents are putting into this, it’s clear they worry exactly that will happen.