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Seatac Businesses, Unions Stage Showdown over Minimum Wage

Powerful business interests and unions are staging a showdown in the small town of SeaTac. Tuesday night, the SeaTac City Council is supposed to vote on whether to put a living wage initiative on the November ballot.  

Airport workers affiliated with unions like the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters collected signatures to put the measure on the ballot. It would set a minimum wage of $15 an hour for hospitality and transportation workers including people like baggage handlers at the airport.

Alaska Air Group and the Washington Restaurant Association tried unsuccessfully last Friday to get a judge to delay the measure from going to the city council.

Jonathan Rosenblum is an organizer with Working Washington, a branch of SEIU that’s spearheading the initiative.

"We need to have good jobs here in SeaTac," Rosenblum said. "We have a thriving airport, we have an economy that is doing very well by people who are running the businesses, the people who are running the businesses need to do well by the community."

Cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles already have living wage laws at their airports. Workers there get anywhere from three to six dollars an hour more than workers in Washington who earn the minimum wage of $9.19 an hour.

But the Washington Restaurant Association has said hiking labor costs will place an undue burden on restaurants at Sea-Tac Airport, and Alaska Air argued in a court filing that it may have to raise airfares if costs go up. 

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.