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What SeaTac's Minimum Wage Fight Can Teach The Labor Movement

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
On Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, wheelchair attendant Erick Conley assists a passenger.

Talking about a $15 minimum wage may seem common now. But when that number was pitched to airport workers and then to SeaTac voters in 2013, the concept was far-fetched.

Jonathan Rosenblum was the SeaTac campaign director for Working Washington at the time. He has a new book chronicling that campaign called "Beyond $15: Immigrant Workers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Movement."

He sat down with KNKX to talk about why SeaTac was about more than just a number. Rosenblum will also be at Town Hall in Seattle on Tuesday talking about the book and the future of the labor movement.

Interview Highlights

On what makes SeaTac unique...

"We didn't stop at, 'How do we make these bad jobs somewhat better?' Rather, how do we transform this airport economy and fight for a principle, in this case making every airport job a good job? As you know , this didn't start as a fight for $15, this started out as a fight to organize all airport workers. And we quickly realized that we couldn't just organize workers in discrete groups at the airport. We actually needed to organize the whole community and the whole airport."

On the stories that don't get told...

"Most stories about social struggles are really told from a leadership perspective or an institutional perspective. And what was missing was the experiences and lessons and insights of ordinary people who day-to-day are on the ground, in the workplace, doing the work, learning about organizing, and pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones. "

On learning from each other...

"[Rev. John Helmiere] said afterward that he realized that I learned about the power of many of us together, the power of our collective action. And so, we were learning from him and other clergy about the power of the moral voice at the same time he and other clergy were learning about the power of collective action, and together that made for a successful campaign."

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.