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SeaTac Proposition 1

SeaTac  workers said Wednesday, June 5, they had submitted enough voters’ signatures to the Seatac City Clerk’s Office to put on the November ballot their ‘Good Jobs Initiative’ to raise employees’ wages and benefits to $15 an hour. The measure was approved by voters in the November 2013 general election.

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By Christi Parsons and Kathleen Hennessey

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — Hoping to lay a politically bruising year to rest, President Obama on Tuesday declared a “year of action” in which he said he will work with lawmakers when he can, but sidestep them to move proposals to help low- and middle-income families share in the economic recovery.

In his State of the Union Address, Obama promised to flex his power to boost wages, protect the environment and channel resources to education, starting with an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors.

President Obama Delivers State Of The Union Address At U.S. Capitol

President Joe Biden (L) and Speaker of the House John Boehner applaud as President Barack Obama finishes State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill on January 28, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Larry Downing-Pool/Getty Images)

Before a joint session of Congress, Obama told lawmakers in the House chamber that he is eager to have their help to strengthen the middle class, but that he won’t be clipped by Congress in his drive to “reverse these tides” of economic inequality.

“America does not stand still, and neither will I,” Obama said. “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Obama’s remarks came as his public approval rating limps along and his Democratic Party nervously eyes the prospect of losing control of the Senate in the November elections. The next few months represent perhaps the best chance for the president to reclaim ground lost by the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act, find a winning economic message and make some progress passing his agenda.

Obama also sought to sound a hopeful note on the economy, as it shows some of the strongest signs in years, even as his message was aimed at those falling behind.

“After four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled,” Obama said. “The cold, hard fact is that, even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by — let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”

“Opportunity is who we are,” he said. “And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”

Republicans countered with their own message on how to shrink the gap between rich and poor. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., was tapped to deliver the official GOP response. She focused on what she presented as the Republican Party’s “more hopeful” vision.

“It’s one that champions free markets — and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you,” she said in remarks released in advance. “Because our mission — not only as Republicans, but as Americans, is to once again ensure that we are not bound by where we come from, but empowered by what we can become. That is the gap Republicans are working to close.”

Republicans bristled Tuesday at the president’s vows to use his pen to order executive actions and his phone to rally the public to his causes, questioning whether Obama could really find middle ground.

“For all his talk of going around Congress, he wouldn’t have to if he’d actually try to work with the people’s elected representatives every now and then,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said. “I’m saying, ‘Don’t talk about using the phone, just use it. And please, be serious when you call.’”

Obama’s minimum wage announcement was a clear example of his effort to bypass congressional roadblocks — and the limits of how far he can travel on that route. Obama plans to sign an executive order raising wages for workers employed by federal contractors to $10.10 per hour, up from the current minimum wage of $7.25.

The increase would largely affect service employees — such as cafeteria workers and busboys at Smithsonian museums — bringing a full-time employee from $15,000 a year to $21,000.

The White House offered no information on how many people would be affected. Outside experts and allies put the estimate at several hundred thousand, a mere slice of the approximately 2 million people employed by federal contractors.

Obama urged Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, stressing the benefit to women, who hold a majority of lower-wage jobs and are an important swing vote in this year’s congressional elections. Raising women’s pay is just one way to “do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode,” he said.

White House and Democratic strategists believe the issue is one that may find bipartisan backing in an election year. Recent polls show most Americans favor raising the minimum wage — nearly three-quarters in a Pew Research poll conducted earlier this month — although Republicans are sharply divided on the issue.

Obama also highlighted other elements of his economic inequality agenda, calling on Congress to expand unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and touting new commitments from chief executives of corporations who’d agreed not discriminate against applicants because of extended stretches out of work.

At times, Obama alluded to ambitious plans of his past.

He reminded Americans that he has drawn down the war in Afghanistan and put Al Qaeda’s core leadership “on a path to defeat.” He offered a spirited defense of his sweeping reform of American health care system, smiling as he noted, “in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of fixing that.”

He alluded to last year’s ill-fated effort, born out of the shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School, to pass new gun-control measures. He vowed to “keep trying, with or without Congress,” but laid out no specific plans.

On Tuesday, Obama was intent on setting more manageable goals at a time of intense partisan intransigence.

The president said he intends to speed up implementation of the ConnectEd program, his plan to connect all schools to the Internet. He said he will create a new “starter savings account” to help people who don’t have 401(k) plans or pensions for retirement.

He also reminded listeners of his power to regulate power-plant emissions, noting that the shift to a cleaner energy will require “tough choices.” “Climate change is a fact,” he said. “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world … I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

Obama also proposed initiatives that would need approval from Congress. He called for expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without children, including non-custodial parents. The idea, which Obama has embraced before, is to raise the maximum credit and make it available to more low-wage workers.

The White House is also seeking to show what one official described as “creative” uses of its power that don’t involve executive orders or legislation. Obama plans to meet with CEOs to encourage them to hire the long-term unemployed, meet with college presidents to talk about affordability and initiate a partnership with businesses, community colleges and labor unions to create more on-the-job apprenticeships.

The president has already publicized some of these efforts and plans more events. On Wednesday, he’ll set out on a two-day, four-state tour that starts at a Costco in Maryland. The big-box retailer has raised wages above the required minimum.

He asked Congress to get on board with a Democratic proposal to raise the federal minimum to $10.10 per hour.

SEATTLE — Sea-Tac International Airport workers packed a Port of Seattle meeting Tuesday, demanding a $15 minimum wage that voters in the city of SeaTac approved in November.

seatacIt’s the latest chapter of the battle that been fought this past year in the city.

“If I miss one day (of work), I’m behind on rent,” said baggage handler Weston Robinson.  “If I miss two days, behind more.”

Robinson and several others testified before Port of Seattle commissioners in their first meeting of the new year.

SeaTac voters approved a $15 minimum wage in the Nov. 5 general election.  But just a few weeks later, a judge threw out on technical grounds the part of the measure that applies to workers at the airport, which is governed by the Port of Seattle.  Those workers are now targeting the elected Port of Seattle commissioners to adopt the will of the voters in the city of SeaTac.

“I absolutely have to have roommates, or else I cannot make it,” said Mario Young, who also works as a baggage handler at the airport.  “I’m having trouble even furnishing my own apartment.”

The labor leaders that pushed for the SeaTac vote argue that nothing is stopping the Port of Seattle from enacting a $15 minimum wage on their own.

“The voters in SeaTac voted to raise the wages,” said Heather Weiner, spokeswoman for the SeaTac ballot measure.  “[The Port of Seattle] should cooperate with the City of SeaTac and raise wages for 4,700 people who are making our airport one of the best in the country.”

On Tuesday, port commissioners said they were committed to studying the issue and promised to have a “living wage” proposal by June, though they stopped short of committed to $15 an hour.

“We’re telling you we’re going to act,” said Commissioner Courtney Gregoire.  “We understand that there are pending legal matters out there, but we want to take this up.”

She said the voters have expressed their will and “we can’t ignore that.”

Local News
01/02/14

$15 minimum wage in Seattle? Murray to address issue Friday

SEATTLE — City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant said that the website 15now.org would release details at noon Thursday of her plans to bring a $15-an-hour minimum wage to the city.

The site, 15now.org, even had a countdown clock. But when it hit :00 at noon, nothing happened.

“I think they’ll be pretty self-explanatory when it comes to light,” said Sawant, who added that she didn’t feel comfortable talking about it at City Hall because it’s not part of city business yet.

kshama-sawantSawant and Mayor Ed Murray, who were privately sworn into office last Tuesday, Dec. 31, will be sworn in again in a public ceremony on Monday, Jan. 6.

Murray announced late Thursday that he would hold a news conference at 9:30 a.m. Friday to “discuss the next stops to raise the wage to $15 an hour for all Seattle City employees.”

Sawant said the $15 issue she campaigned on is still gaining momentum.

“Nearly 100,000 people voted for our campaign, so clearly there is a desire out here to see major change,” said Sawant.

Voters in the city of SeaTac passed a $15 minimum wage there, but a judge recently ruled that hundreds of employees at the airport are not eligible for raises because it’s operated by the Port of Seattle.

Sawant said she hopes the SeaTac workers win on appeal.

She recently joined Murray’s special committee to study a minimum wage increase in Seattle, but says she won’t back down on her promise of $15 an hour, even if her website is not quite up.

“Our task now is continuing building that support, continuing appealing to people to get engaged, and that`s what the 15-dollar-now task will be.”

The 15now.org website provided information on the plans late Thursday night.  The site called for supporters to form a grass-roots campaign and donate money ($15) to counter the large “Corporate America” funds that it said will be used to fight the minimum wage increase movement.  It also urged supporters of $15 an hour to attend a rally in Seattle on Jan. 12.

seatac-good-jobs-petitionsSEATTLE — The new $15 minimum wage initiative has begun for hundreds of employees working in the city of SeaTac, but there are thousands of  others who will not benefit from the new pay increase voted on last year.

Proposition 1 in SeaTac narrowly passed a vote last November. Hundreds of employees in hospitality businesses in the city are now making $15 an hour as a base wage. Thousands of other employees working at Sea-Tac Airport, fast food industry and at small businesses are not eligible for this major pay raise.

Folks in the area have mixed reactions to the propositions rules.

David Pelu is a baggage handler at the airport and says he is glad the minimum wage hike does not apply to him. He says he could have lost his job.

Pelu said, “I’m upset but at the same time the company I work for, we’re like relieved because we still have our jobs. If it would have went up they would have let us go.”

Others say they will fight these exemptions because they aren’t fair.

Brian Rupert said, “The way it looks is that the judge has made it available for those in the SeaTac area not on the port of Seattle property which I don’t feel is right. We have to wait for the appeal process and see where it goes from there.”

In Seattle, newly elected council member, Kshama Sawant, will release details about her plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour in the Emerald City. On her website, 15now.org, she is asking people to join her. She is expected to announce details on her plan as early as January 2nd.

Politics
01/01/14

SeaTac’s $15 minimum wage goes into effect

SEATAC — It’s the day many people have been waiting for. The minimum wage in the city of SeaTac was raised to 15 dollars an hour today. But not everyone is getting a pay hike.

The New Year is off to a good start for employees at the Holiday Inn Seattle Airport. Those making minimum wage are now getting a raise to 15 dollars an hour.

“It’s kind of nice. I wasn’t expecting it,” says Stephen Koistinen. “I mean I was happy without it. But I’ll be happier with a little bump, it’s nice.”

“It is nice, because I’m a college student,” adds Kiaarra Williams. “It helps pay for a lot of stuff.”

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But these employees also feel a bit guilty.

Last week, a judge ruled employees at SeaTac airport are not eligible for raises, because the airport is operated by the Port of Seattle. It was a lot of airport workers who pushed for Proposition 1 in the first place.

“I feel bad for the ones who are trying to get it and they’re not,” says Koistinen. “I don’t want to feel like I’m taking what they have. I would say it’s a little unfair.”

It’s also a little confusing.

Although the new ordinance was passed by voters in November, not all business owners know what it says.

“We are a small business,” says Karnail Singh, the owner of the SeaTac Crest Motor Inn. “It’s only 46 rooms and we have less than 10 employees. We do know if it will affect us or not.”

It won’t. The ordinance only affects hotels in SeaTac that have 100 or more rooms, and 30 or more employees.

Transportation companies need to have 100 or more rental cars or parking spaces, and 25 or more employees.

So a lot of the businesses along International Boulevard in SeaTac are exempt.

But Singh is still worried that the new minimum wage will hurt him. He says it will be a factor when it comes to hiring new employees.

“They will run to big business getting $15 an hour. It will be also hard for us to keep good employees. They may be greedy and try to go with big companies.”

Some hotel employees, who work for a union, were told by union management that they would not get a raise because they’re under contract right now. So even though the judge that ruled on this case last week said 1600 workers in the city would get a raise, the number might be lower than that.

The city of SeaTac has created a website to answer questions about the new ordinance.

SEATTLE — Mayor-elect Ed Murray announced his plan Thursday for increasing the minimum wage in Seattle when he takes office next month.  He has named a task force, including everyone from labor to the chamber, to help him chart a path.

“Is this going to be a city that is diverse economically, racially, ethnically?” Murray asked.  “That’s the challenge before us.”

murray1On the campaign trail this fall, Murray supported a minimum wage of $15 an hour, but said it should be phased in over four years in order to not be too disruptive to businesses.

Murray’s “Income Inequality” task force is his effort, his gamble really, to see if he can create some common ground and avoid the kind of fight that was just waged in the city of SeaTac over the $15 minimum wage — an initiative that was approved by voters in the Nov. 5 general election.

“I do not want the business community and the labor community of this city to spend extraordinary amounts of money on an initiative,” Murray said.

The mayor-elect has given the group until April to come up with a recommendation.  But avoiding a SeaTac-like fight means getting Murray’s diverse group to agree on a plan.

On Thursday,  all eyes were on new socialist City Councilwoman-elect Kshama Sawant.  She made it clear that while she’ll be on this committee, but she’s not going to compromise on $15 an hour.

“My role in this is to bring the voice of the workers,” Sawant said.  “Think of me as the shop steward for the working people of Seattle on this committee.”

She warned, however, that pushing a SeaTac-like initiative is “still very much under consideration” if the group doesn’t support a sufficiently progressive position.

One big objection to increasing the minimum wage so significantly is what effect that will have on small businesses.

“There are obviously small mom and pop stores that have two, three, four, five employees, well under 10 employees, that are very concerned about how to keep their doors open,” said committee member Michael Wells, director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.  “But they’re willing to engage in the conversation, and I think they all realize that now is the moment to have it.”

Murray recognizes that his group represents a wide variety of opinions and that they may not come to an agreement.  In any event, he plans to submit a minimum wage proposal to the City Council by April.

Local News
12/17/13

Sawant calls for $15 minimum wage in Seattle in 2014

SEATTLE — Seattle City Councilwoman-elect Kshama Sawant made her intentions loud and clear at a news conference Tuesday morning: “2014 will be the year of $15-an-hour minimum wage in Seattle.”

sawantStriving toward one her primary campaign tenants,  Sawant, the first popularly elected socialist candidate in the council in more  than 100 years, said she would push the council — and if necessary voters — hard  to mandate a $15-an-hour minimum wage for workers in Seattle.

Sawant announced plans for a website where volunteers could sign up to  support the cause, and urged those in the community to get involved. She said  the complete plans for how to implement a new minimum wage were not worked out,  but would be “all inclusive” in an effort to help small businesses, workers and  the city.

“Now is the time to stand up,” Sawant said. “We need this as quickly as  possible.”

Other Seattle City Council members didn’t want to comment on Sawant’s plan, and neither did Mayor-elect Ed Murray, though he is planning to announce his own ideas about a $15-an-hour wage. He will talk about those ideas on Thursday, but in the past Murray has said he would like to phase the minimum wage increase in over his first four years in office.

Sawant doesn’t want to wait.

“Tens of thousands of workers have to put food on the table today, and they have to pay their rent every month,” said Sawant. “As long as they don’t have the freedom to tell their landlords that they can wait for four years, we can’t wait for four years.”

In SeaTac, where $15-an-hour was recently passed by voters, opponents of the measure contend there will be layoffs and shutdowns at businesses around that area. Some Seattle employers are worried about what would happen in Washington’s biggest city if the minimum wage increases by that much. The current minimum wage is $9.19, the highest of any U.S. state. Among city workers, those in Sonoma, Calif., enjoy the highest rate, at $15.38 an hour.

In her news conference, Sawant admitted some jobs could be lost, but said, “If we don’t fight for this, then the race to the bottom will continue.”

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KING COUNTY — SeaTac’s proposition guaranteeing workers a minimum wage of $15-an-hour survived a hand recount Monday.

seatac workerObservers found no change in the hand recount from the numbers certified by King County Elections officials earlier this year, and proposition 1 passed by 77 votes out of the 6,003 votes cast. King County Elections is expected to re-certify Proposition 1 votes Tuesday.

A King County recount for a local race hasn’t changed the outcome of an election in more than 10 years.

Teams from both sides of the issue were present at the hand recount.  The measure, which gives airport and hospitality workers a starting wage of $15-an-hour, is slated to go into effect Jan. 1.

The wage measure faces a court challenge by Alaska Air Group, which argues whether or not SeaTac voters have the authority to mandate wages on airport property is owned by the Port of Seattle. Supporters of the proposition said they are “disappointed” that Alaska Air Group is challenging the proposition in court.

“Thousands of people working full time jobs at SeaTac Airport must rely on public assistance to feed their families and pay their heating bills,” officials with Yes for SeaTac said, noting that workers in other cities featuring large airports have higher wages.

King County Superior Court Judge Darvas will hear opening arguments Friday.

Local News
12/05/13

Fast-food workers march from SeaTac to Seattle to push for higher pay

SEATTLE –  On a frigid morning, the marchers gathered in SeaTac, where voters already approved raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The demonstrators want the same thing in Seattle, so they hit the road for the 14-mile march into the city Thursday. They also protested inside a Wendy’s in Seattle’s Central District.

“I’m out here for me, my family, my children,” said Crystal Thompson, who works at Domino’s for $9.19 an hour.

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Demonstrators marching for a higher hourly wage gather in a Wendy’s in Seattle’s Central District Thursday.

 Thompson said she can barely get by on her pay, and that $15 an hour would change her family’s life.

 “It would pay the bills, buy us some clothes, and buy us food,” said Thompson.

 Another fast-food worker, Karl Bologh, joined the march. Balogh, said he works nearly 70 hours a week at Arby’s and McDonald’s, and earns just enough to get by.

After the yes vote on the wage initiative in the city of SeaTac, Bolog, and the other demonstrators believe their cause has momentum.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour insist Seattle businesses simply can’t afford it.

But the protesters aren’t buying it and they took their fight to the streets, for more then six hours on the long march to Seattle.

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