SeaTac City Council Sends $15 Minimum Wage Initiative to November Ballot, a Local Measure of National Significance

Union-Backed Campaign Squeaks Through Signature Check -- Suit From Alaska Airlines, Restaurant Association Remains a Wild Card

By Erik Smith
Washington State Wire

Here it comes! A national campaign for a big increase in the minimum wage establishes a beachhead in the city of SeaTac.

Here it comes! A national campaign for a big increase in the minimum wage establishes a beachhead in the city of SeaTac.

SEATAC, July 24.—A local ballot measure that would impose a $15-an-hour minimum wage on Sea-Tac International Airport and surrounding businesses is headed for the November ballot, placing this small King County city on the front line of a national campaign that is being mounted by organized labor.

The SeaTac City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to place the “Good Jobs SeaTac” initiative on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. The decision was a formality after the campaign squeaked through a city signature-check this week. Organizers needed 1,566 signatures, and even though they turned in nearly a thousand more than required, challenges from opponents disqualified an unusually large number and the campaign was left with just 43 to spare. The relatively small number of signatures involved belies the significance of the campaign, which would give SeaTac the nation’s highest minimum wage and would impose other workplace standards on airlines, airport concessionaires, hotels, parking-lot operators and other airport-related businesses. Thus an electorate of roughly 10,000 could set the rules for an enormous enterprise that was worth $13.2 billion in 2007, according to an airport-sponsored economic study.

SeaTac Council votes to advance initiative to the Nov. 5 ballot.

SeaTac Council advances initiative to the Nov. 5 ballot.

After nearly two hours of testimony from airport workers, labor campaigners and frightened hotel operators, it was clear that the issue has divided this city of 27,000. Deputy Mayor Mia Gregerson, who has publicly urged a labor-standards ordinance after winning election in 2011 with significant union support, said, “Today we heard a confrontation between two classes of people – the people of gold and the people of despair. I think our role is clear, and that is to let the people of SeaTac speak with the power of their vote.”

Other, rather less enthusiastic councilmembers observed that the law gave them just two choices. They could advance the measure to the ballot or enact it into law on their own – and they weren’t about to do the latter. A lawsuit to block the initiative has been filed by SeaTac-based Alaska Airlines, the Washington State Restaurant Association and an airport restaurant operator, but a motion for an injunction was denied last week in King County Superior Court on the ground that the measure had not yet been certified for the ballot. Attorney Cecilia Cordova, representing concessionaire Filo Foods, said Tuesday night that plaintiffs have not decided whether to renew their challenge before the election, or to wait until after the vote. Among other things, the suit contends the initiative runs afoul of the state’s single-subject rule for ballot measures and federal labor laws regarding common carriers. “There are going to be a lot of legal challenges,” she said.

At Forefront of National Effort

The SeaTac initiative is on the leading edge of a national union-backed “living wage” campaign that is being battled one city at a time. Labor unions are staging rallies and demonstrations today to mark the four-year anniversary of the last increase in the federal minimum wage; the effort attracted national attention this month with the decision of the Washington, D.C. City Council to require large retailers to pay a 50 percent premium over the federal minimum wage. The decision prompted Wal-Mart to threaten cancellation of plans for three stores. A $15 minimum wage is a major issue in a Los Angeles mayoral campaign, and in Seattle, where embattled Mayor Mike McGinn faces a tough campaign for re-election, he is threatening to hold up a Whole Foods supermarket because he maintains the grocery chain doesn’t pay enough. Wrapped into the controversy is the parallel issue of mandatory paid sick leave – Seattle passed an ordinance with support from the same quarters last year, and a new campaign is under way in Tacoma.

The SeaTac initiative encompasses those issues and then some. The measure is backed by a coalition headed by Working Washington, an organizing arm of the Service Employees International Union. In Washington state it is a rather singular issue — the state minimum wage already is the highest in the country at $9.19 an hour; the initiative imposes a 63 percent premium. The initiative also imposes a mandatory sick-leave requirement, and it would establish “successor employer” rules requiring businesses to rehire employees when a business is taken over by a new owner, or when an old concession contract is replaced by a new one. The latter point has been an issue of some controversy since 2005, when Alaska Airlines replaced 500 baggage handlers with a new contract operation. Unions have pressed for a successor-employer bill in the Legislature, but have not been successful.

Advocates Claim Economic Boost

A hot, sweaty audience filled every seat and poured into the hallways.

Hot, sweaty audience fills every seat and spills into the hallways.

In the city of SeaTac, it all seems to be in voters’ hands now – and given the relatively small number of voters who reside within the city limits, it appears that the battle will come door-to-door, on a far more personal level than the typical political campaign. A relative handful of SeaTac residents will make a decision that affects a much broader enterprise because the airport is a magnet for workers who live throughout south King County and northern Pierce. Airport officials estimate that 20,000 are employed at the terminal, including 16,000 badged employees and 4,000 more who work as taxi drivers, rental-car workers, shuttle drivers and others. That doesn’t include those who work at the nearby hotels along the Highway 99 strip.

Social justice is one driver of the campaign: “They are working at high-end hotels, they are working for the airlines,they are working at restaurants where they could never sit at the table,” said the Rev. Jan Bolerjack of Riverton Park United Methodist Church. “They are cleaning the cabins of airplanes where they could never sit and buckle themselves in.”

Puget Sound Sage, a non-profit organization that has provided statistical support for the effort, estimates that the measure will affect 6,100 workers, boosting wages by an average $533 a month. That’s good news for the local economy, said policy analyst Nicole Keenan. “When workers spend their money on local businesses, those business owners and employees now have more money to spend themselves. In turn, they will re-spend part of the wages increased by this initiative on other businesses – this is called a ripple or multiplier effect.”

Sage uses the airport’s own studies to make the point: Using those same 2007 figures, the latest available, airport consultants estimated that every dollar in wages becomes $1.45 in the local economy. Thus $39 million in increased wages becomes $57 million as it is spent and respent. Keenan stated that most workers who will be affected are employed by multinational corporations, which presumably can absorb the additional cost.

Math Problem

Scott Ostrander, manager of Cedarbrook Lodge.

Scott Ostrander, manager of Cedarbrook Lodge.

Opponents say it’s not that simple, and for every multinational you’ll find small-business owners struggling for profitability. Increase costs for employers and the money has to come from somewhere – and they say they can reach only so far into travelers’ pockets. Labor costs become the obvious target. Because the initiative applies to hotels with 100 or more rooms, some hotel operators may decrease the number of rooms they operate. Many predict restaurant closures and layoffs and say certainly there won’t be new investment in the community. Scott Ostrander, general manager of Cedarbrook Lodge, said his operation is no multinational. “I am shaking here tonight because I am going to be forced to lay people off for something that is not their fault, something they have no control over,” he said. “I’m going to take away their livelihood. That hurts. It really, really hurts.

“Many people in the audience – you’ve got tags on that say good jobs make SeaTac better. You’re absolutely right, and that is what I do as a small business employer. I make jobs, I make SeaTac better. Good jobs, decent jobs are better than no jobs. And what I am going to have to do on Jan. 1 is to eliminate jobs, reduce hours – and as soon as hours are reduced, benefits are reduced. I’m also a voter and I live in SeaTac, and I was a proud citizen of SeaTac. A very young city, a city with great promise and opportunity, and this initiative will destroy this community.”

Gary Smith of the Independent Business Association.

Gary Smith of the Independent Business Association.

SeaTac business interests have organized an opposition campaign calling itself Common Sense Sea-Tac; lending support is the Southwest King County Chamber of Commerce. Gary Smith of the Independent Business Association told the council there are plenty of people who would love to work for $15 an hour – it’s not as if the wage has anything to do with supply and demand. “This proposal would make an economic island of SeaTac in the state of Washington. You will have the worst place to locate a business in the state of Washington. I don’t think you want to go there.”

Stormy Testimony

Though the council decision was a foregone conclusion, the dozens who trooped to the mike Tuesday night offered a preview of the campaign to come, with their incendiary remarks about rapacious corporations and greedy labor unions. Take Tyler Henderson, of Seattle: “I’m going to ask you, city council, who do you work for? Us, the electorate? Or do you work for big business? It is time to take the fight to the greedy big businesses. It is either that or continue to take on the working class.”

Then came 72-year-old Kathleen Brave of SeaTac, who said she certainly wished her pension and Social Security payments offered her $15 an hour. “Many who were not born in this country and are uneducated and unskilled think they deserve more than I do or my neighbors do. My dad’s family came over on the Mayflower — nobody helped them. I just feel that this goes way too far, and I think in the long run you’re all going to be disappointed when you lose your jobs or get laid off, because all this is going to do is to line the pockets of union workers.”

Said SeaTac Mayor Tony Anderson, “It will come down to what is the will of the voters here.”

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  • jeff brave

    OK this is NOT Jeff Brave this is his Gramma KATHIE. I have tried EVERYTHING to change this but no go. I am proud to say I was the only one booed last night. And I don’t take it back at all. When I saId “many not born here”. Not sure what was wrong with that but I am an old lady and stand by that. I also said “not all” but many and it’s true.
    I also said that my Dad’s parents came over on the Mayflower and no one helped them other than my husband’s family, the Native Americans. My Mom’s family all came from Switzerland 3 generations ago and no one gave them a bit of help and they all did quite well. My wonderful mother in law, Native American, died at 51 after raising 5 kids with NO help. No food stamps, low income housing or welfare. She always worked 2 jobs.
    My husband, Native, worked 2 jobs many times as he would do anything to support his family.
    I am simply appalled at how far this goes! Way too far. A 63% pay raise! Way too much, all the benefits and sick days. Too much. We already have the highest minimum wage in the country and they want THAT much more?
    I know many people who would love to work for those wages and benefits and I’d bet they are way more qualified than a lot of the people there. Not all, of course, but many. My grandson for one would be overjoyed to make that kind of money and have benefits to boot! He’s been unemployed for a long time and will be starting a job with commission only. Try that one! Now that he’s heard about this he’s thinking about moving back to Gramma’s and trying to get a job here.
    One man got in trouble for asking how many lived in SeaTac. A very valid question and it showed just what we thought, very few. So this tells us the money won’t stay in SeaTac.So that $1.45 won’t stay in SeaTac but go to other cities while little old SeaTac will be paying higher prices and having to pay taxes to have all of this monitored.
    I am appalled that we are being asked to vote on something that the city can’t even tell us how much it will cost to monitor! Sounds like it will be a LOT but they don’t know. I wanted to ask how many were born here but would have been stoned for that one! And I could not understand most of the people who spoke. (And couldn’t hear as many don’t know how to use a mike).
    I have not a clue how this even ended up being the job of the city? This is a union issue and they should be trying to unionize rather than this. Of course the unions are behind it and pouring thousands and thousands into this initiative. Already $5,000 alone just to do the petitioning. After the (almost ) $100,000 they spent getting 2 of the city council members elected 2 years ago so they could do this! And who knows how much more with the gala party they threw last night? The union bosses and a few others are the ones who will benefit.
    I was union, my late husband was union so, no, I’m not against unions but they have gone way too far and especially with something like this. My husband worked to get a union in a company in South Dakota years ago, so we are not against them.
    I am NOT cold hearted and feel sorry for so many people who have it tough. I know what it’s like. I once went 3 days without eating (and was 6 months pregnant) because there wasn’t enough other than to feed my 2 year old and husband, all potatoes and veggies, we couldn’t afford meat. And when my husband asked I just told him I’d already eaten. I really do know how hard it is to not have much of any money so not just talking and not doing the walk.
    But, again, it’s tough out there. I would LOVE to get a raise of over $500 a month! Are you kidding me? Once in a while I get $20 a month on my SS COLA but it all goes back into the raise of Medicare.
    I would love to make $30,000 a year, maybe I could pay my way behind power bill. I have seen poverty like most of you never have, in this country anyway. Try the reservations in South Dakota (and that state is TALKING about raising the minimum wage to a little over $8.00 an hour). The Pine Ridge reservation in SD is the poorest county in the nation! As are all the reservations there. And unemployment! Horrible unemployment. You all have it made here whether you realize it or not.
    As I was leaving last night, and I left early as I couldn’t take any more of the BS that was being said to say nothing of the heat, a fellow was at the mike talking about (I assume what I said) about an education and how can you pay for classes on those wages? Dang, I did! (I had 4 kids and a husband, kept a clean house and cooked every night).Took all kinds of classes, no student loans, no way, to improve my self and my possibilities as I knew that had to be done to get anywhere in life.
    And, again, I will get booed. PLEASE learn to speak English! That will be the number one thing you can do!
    And, yes, you will all be so dissapointed when, if this passes, you will be cut back to part time or laid off. It MAY work a little in the short term but, in the long term, you will be way worse off. By the way, have you heard of robots? There is a LOT they can do and much automation to take over your jobs.
    Sorry if you didn’t like what I said but it came from the heart. I have always been involved in politics but, for the first time ever, I will be going out door belling to see that this horrible, job killing bill goes down to defeat!
    Kathleen Brave
    PS My son and boyfriend are worried about me that I will be hurt by talking about this. I’m not worried, I have them!

    • pen44

      Thank you, Kathie…you are truly brave!!!

      Everybody keeps forgetting how the unions, and their abundant demands, destroyed the car companies, and therefor, Detroit. How’s Detroit working out for you unions?! When there’s no incentive for rising in the company, because the company cannot pay more than minimum wage, so even merit raises are out….that is when this country will turn into the U.S.S.R. in the 1900′s. and America will no longer be the economic, research & inventive giant we are now, some would say we’ve already started losing it.

    • Kathie

      Thank you all for your kind words. I was feeling a little crappy after the booing last night but still won’t back down on everything I said. You all made me feel so much better.
      Again, Kathie not Jeff. If anyone can tell me how to change this I will be very happy. Doesn’t matter how I sign in, D FB Gmail, it all comes back to Jeff.

  • Concerned Business

    I applaud Kathie, the 4 clowns on the council should be stoned as they are destroying this city, people were wondering how the would pay back the unions for getting them elected well her it is because those 3 did not get elected on their merits. Welcome to Detroit as these idiots will bankrupt SeaTac. And if the Deputy Mayor can please tell us where she is hiding the gold?? maybe it is in her house on Angle Lake

  • lewwaters

    It’s going to interesting to see who or what they will blame the soaring unemployment on, should they adopt such an outrageous minimum unemployment.

  • Aj Gomez

    Make it $20 an hour? Can we also vote to end minimum wage? I predict that it fails. Either way, it should fail, it should never be brought forward.


    If this passes — this will no long be a major hub — I’m willing to bet you see major carriers pull out and make there connections elsewhere.

    • pen44

      Of course, they will, this will kill businesses, even the cargo businesses.

      And, they’re trying to destroy the Port of Vancouver by discouraging potential job providing companies from coming to Vancouver. Then we have the ILWU and their shenanigans. The unions have historically been associated with either Communists or the Mafia.

      It’s a shame, all of these workers who pushing this for “the unions”, will lose their jobs…but they won’t blame the unions, they’ll blame the “fat cat” businesses & corporations. Class warfare, classic Commie Unionist tactics!! But the workers will still be out of jobs………………homo sapiens are the stupidest mammals on earth, bar none.

  • Rocky-n-Bullwinkle

    This will pass. No minimum wage increase has ever failed, anywhere in the country, once it’s made the ballot.

    My questions goes to legal authority to override state law. (state law sets minimum wage) Is SeaTac also going to increase the speed limits on State roads and Highways? How about all the other State laws? Can SeaTac vote to say, legalize gaming, and prostitution, overriding WA state law.

    Perhaps SeaTac can form it’s own country.

    • ChronicKindness

      Chapter establishes minimum standards and is supplementary to other laws — More favorable standards unaffected.
      This chapter establishes a minimum standard for wages and working conditions of all employees in this state, unless exempted herefrom, and is in addition to and supplementary to any other federal, state, or local law or ordinance, or any rule or regulation issued thereunder. Any standards relating to wages, hours, or other working conditions established by any applicable federal, state, or local law or ordinance, or any rule or regulation issued thereunder, which are more favorable to employees than the minimum standards applicable under this chapter, or any rule or regulation issued hereunder, shall not be affected by this chapter and such other laws, or rules or regulations, shall be in full force and effect and may be enforced as provided by law.

  • pen44

    Unions AND Communists willfully chop off working class noses to make themselves look like they’re doing something for the workers….they are going to destroy this country. Look at the working conditions & jobs in China, Cuba…Russia & the other Communist block countries are just now getting out from under Collectivization’s horrors, when “incentive” was destroyed and pay was minimal at best. That is what happens when businesses move out of the country, and the government starts running everything. Greece, France, Italy, even England, are losing everything, because of Socialist-Communist practices. COMMUNISM DOES NOT WORK…NOT EVEN ON PAPER!!!!!!

  • tigers

    It figures it is union based. If it happens, the unions will raise there union fees to fit in with the payraise and they will not be making as money as non union- who will have the right to have their wages also start at $15.00. When the companies start pulling out of Sea-Tac and these high paid workers no longer have a job, do you think they will be hired elsewhere?