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Amid Minimum Wage Debate, Alaska Air Gives Contractors A Raise To $12 An Hour

Elaine Thompson/AP Photo
In this Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013 photo, wheelchair attendants Erick Conley, left, and Sesilia Vaitele assist a pair of passengers heading to an overseas flight at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, in SeaTac, Wash.

Against the backdrop of a minimum wage debate occurring both locally and nationally, Alaska Air says it’s boosting the starting pay for workers who handle baggage, clean cabins and refuel airplanes to $12 an hour.

That comes after the company successfully litigated a SeaTac voter proposition that would have given those employees a raise to $15 an hour. 

The pay increase applies to more than 1,000 workers employed by Alaska Air contractors at Sea-Tac International Airport, including Menzies Aviation and Aircraft Service International Group.  

The bump up to $12 covers ramp agents, aircraft fuelers and cabin cleaners. People who earn tips such as wheelchair attendants and skycaps will get $10 an hour in base pay.

Previously, the starting pay for those workers ranged from the state minimum wage of $9.32 an hour to $10.88. 

Jeff Butler, Alaska Air's vice president of airport operations and customer service, says the raise represents a 28 percent increase for some workers.

"I think that shows Alaska’s incredibly strong commitment to having a competitive and fair wage," Butler said. "It’s one of the highest at Sea-Tac and it’s one of the highest in the industry."

SeaTac voter proposition 

Still, the raise is less than the $15 an hour voters in SeaTac narrowly approved last November for workers in the transportation and hospitality industries.

Alaska Air challenged Proposition 1 in court and a King County judge ruled that the city doesn’t have jurisdiction over the airport. That case is still being appealed by the labor unions that sponsored Proposition 1.

The Port of Seattle runs the airport in SeaTac, and in the past few months, the port has also been researching what to do to improve pay at the airport. 

"The Port appreciates Alaska Airlines taking this important step to increase wages of their contract employees," said Port Commission Co-President Courtney Gregoire in a statement. "We, however, remain committed to raising the job quality standards for workers throughout the airport."

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.