OLYMPIA WA, May 26.—A local ballot initiative in the city of SeaTac would give airport workers and those in nearby hotels and car-rental companies the highest minimum wage in the country by nearly $5 an hour, the latest move in a labor-backed push to set the rules at North America’s 17th-busiest airport.
Already it has the appearance of a fight that will embroil the state’s business community at the highest level. Business groups are groaning, and at least one lawmaker says he is investigating whether the Legislature might be able to pass a bill pre-empting the initiative. Labor unions and allied organizations are gathering signatures for the measure, which they hope to place on the November ballot. It would require employers in airport-related businesses to pay at least $15 an hour and mandate that they provide paid sick leave.
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It is a continuation of a battle that has played out in the Legislature since 2011, where the same coalition of labor and progressive interests has pushed a narrower bill that would restrict hiring by airport contractors and concessionaires — of particular importance in cases where new employers go non-union. But while those provisions are part of the initiative as well, it is the minimum wage and sick-leave provisions that are the rallying point. Advocates call it a matter of social justice. “There is no secret here,” said Thea Lefkovitz, spokeswoman for the SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs. “Workers would like to be paid a fair wage; they would like to not be living in poverty and they would like to have paid days of sick leave if they or a child are sick. A person that is working full-time should have the ability to put food on the table, and if that is what workers are looking for at the airport, we certainly are going to support them.”
Not Just About Wages
The campaign is backed by Working Washington, an organizing arm of the Service Employees International Union that has been active in the Occupy movement and which has been focusing on SeaTac and its airport over the last two years. The organization touts a report by Puget Sound Sage, which observes that there is no minimum wage at the airport other than the state minimum wage of $9.19 an hour. Other major west-coast airports impose contractual minimums ranging from $13.45 at Oakland to $14.18 at San Francisco. It should be noted, however, that the SeaTac initiative extends beyond airport concessionaires and contractors by imposing a minimum wage on off-premises businesses. It encompasses hotels with more than 100 rooms – there are 45 of them within the city limits. And it applies as well to shuttle services with more than 10 vans or buses, parking-lot operators with more than 100 spaces, and car-rental companies with a fleet of more than 100 cars.
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Backers say the measure would affect roughly 5,000 of the 40,000 workers who are employed in the city of SeaTac, where the airport and its ancillary businesses are the dominant employers. The wage would be set at $15 an hour next January 1, and it would be increased annually to adjust for increases in the federal consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, the fastest-rising of the indexes maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Clearly the initiative would give the city of SeaTac the highest minimum wage in the country, albeit not for all businesses in the city limits. Washington has the highest state minimum wage, and the city of San Francisco has the highest municipal minimum at $10.55.
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