SeaTac residents are on the verge of possibly voting for what would be the highest minimum wage in the country. This is the time to ask questions. Lot of them.
Last Tuesday, the SeaTac City Council voted to send the SeaTac Good Jobs Initiative to the November ballot without changes. It would have gone there regardless after Working Washington, an organizing arm of the Service Employees International Union, collected thousands of signatures in May.
Supporters of the proposal argue it will pull transportation and hospitality workers in and around Sea-Tac Airport out of poverty by increasing wages from $9.19 to $15, starting in January 2014.
However, some business owners say a hefty 62 percent increase in hourly wages would force them to close or limit hiring.
Initiative backers contend living-wage increases in other West Coast airports in San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles and San Francisco have not led to such dire consequences.
Expect a long and heavily funded debate on this issue. If the SeaTac initiative passes, it is likely to head to other cities in Washington. Look at what’s happening in Seattle alone, where Mayor Mike McGinn has opposed Whole Foods’ efforts to expand in West Seattle unless it increases worker pay and fast-food workers have filed complaints against employers for wage theft.
Here are some early questions and concerns about the initiative:
• Would the Port of Seattle enforce the rules? Or would the City of SeaTac be allowed to do so, as outlined in the proposal’s outline?
• Why does the initiative go above and beyond just a $15 minimum wage? It also forces employers to offer paid sick leave, give more hours to part-time workers, and creates a process through which employees can file grievances with the city against their employers. Where would funding come from to do that?
• Unlike other airports with living wages, this initiative also extends to hotels, parking lots, and rental car services outside of the airport. Is it fair to create a subset of wages within the city? Businesses worry they will have to raise prices for consumers in order to compete for workers.
Unions say they are not targeting mom and pop shops. Their real goal is to convince big businesses like Alaska Airlines and hotel chains to treat employees better so they do not have to rely so heavily on public assistance.
We have to ask ourselves about the jobs in question, which were once meant to be stepping stones to better-paying opportunities. In this economy, a lot of workers are indeed stuck. Income inequality is real in King County.
Solutions should be palatable to both employees and employers, though.
The Good Jobs Initiative will get us talking, but voters should be wary of passage.
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