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Sea-Tac Airport Workers Sue For $15 Minimum Wage And Back Pay

More than a dozen workers at Sea-Tac Airport have filed lawsuits claiming they are being unfairly denied the city of Seatac's current minimum wage of $15.24.  The baggage handlers, airplane cleaners, rental-car wranglers and others who work in support services at the airport say they are also owed two years of back pay.Attorneys for the workers say some employees could be owed as much as $20,000.

Khalif Mahamed, who makes $10 an hour driving for GCA Services Group, which provides rental car services, says it's impossible to support his family on his airport pay, so he drives for Uber on his days off.  He says, with the $15.24 minimum wage, he would be able to work less.

“I’m gonna get the time that I can take care of my kids, because they keep asking the question, 'Why you work seven days? We need you,'” Mahamed said.

Cleveland-based GCA Services didn't return a call requesting comment on the suit.

Three Seattle law firms, Badgley Mullins Turner, Daniel Whitmore and Cleveland Stockmeyer,  joined forces to file the 14 class action lawsuits on behalf of airport workers.  At a news conference, attorney Duncan Turner said he estimates 1,500 workers could ultimately be affected.

"Our goal is to obtain a full accounting of these unpaid wages, and benefits that are tied to wages, plus interest, to get full redress for all of these workers," Turner said.

In an effort to add more workers to the suit, the law firms have set up an information line and website.

But some airport workers may be reluctant to join. Turner says some have been offered settlements that represent a fraction of what they are owed in back pay in exchange for not suing.

Aneb Abdinor Hirey, a driver for GCA Services who makes $12.79 an hour, says some of her co-workers are afraid of coming forward for fear of being fired. But Hirey says she's not worried. She says the law is on her side.

"I don't care. If they fire me, I'm going to the law. I will sue them again," Hirey said.

Since the $15-minimum-wage law was passed by voters in the city of Seatac in 2013, it’s faced legal challenges from airport employers. The employers have contended the local wage law should not apply to them because the airport is run by the Port of Seattle and is a federal port.

The courts, including most recently the Washington Supreme Court, has disagreed with that assertion.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.