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Sea-Tac workers aim for pay raise with ballot initiative

Elaine Thompson
Associated Press

Workers at Sea-Tac Airport are trying to get a big pay raise by way of a ballot initiative. If approved, the increase would put them 60 percent over the state’s minimum wage of $9.19 per hour.

The ballot measure in the city of SeaTac would set a minimum wage of $15 per hour for a number of airport workers including baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, and retail employees. It wouldn’t apply to all workers in the surrounding city, but it does cover bigger hotels and rental car companies.

The labor group Working Washington, which is part of the Service Employees International Union, says Sea-Tac workers are paid much less than employees at other airports on the West Coast. 

"It ensures that the big businesses that are in our community in SeaTac, and doing well in the community, do(ing) right by the community," says Thea Levkovitz, a spokeswoman for Working Washington.

Levkovitz says group members have been knocking on doors to gather the 1,500 signatures they need. And so far, she says the group has received support from SeaTac residents.

Once enough signatures are collected, the city council could choose to adopt it or put it up for a vote on the city ballot in November.

Business groups say they’re concerned. Bruce Beckett with the Washington Restaurant Association says it will be tough for restaurants at the airport to pay the higher wage because the port requires them to keep prices the same as at their other locations.

"That’s going to be an impossible condition to meet, and something’s going to have to give, either the pricing issue or those vendors are going to have to leave the airport," Beckett said. 

Other cities have passed living wage laws for their airports. At Los Angeles International Airport, workers earn at least $15.37 an hour.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.