In May 2013, the independent group SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs filed a City of SeaTac petition to enact a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour for all transportation and hospitality employees in the city of SeaTac, Wash., including the airport.
The proposal was to cover Seattle-Tacoma Airport (Sea-Tac) businesses, including baggage handling, passenger services, security, aircraft fueling, retail stores, hotels and car rental companies.
The American Car Rental Association (ACRA) opposed the initiative, along with Common Sense SeaTac, a business-backed political action committee.
The initiative went to ballot as Proposition 1 in November and narrowly passed, legally requiring a hand recount. With more than 6,000 votes cast, 77 votes separated the two sides. The measure went into effect on Jan. 1.
However, after the recount, Judge Andrea Darvas of King County Superior Court ruled the Port of Seattle, not the city of SeaTac, has jurisdiction over Sea-Tac Airport. Therefore, Judge Darvas ruled that the proposition only applies to around 1,600 workers in the city of SeaTac, not the 4,700 airport employees.
The proposition was drafted by local unions to include all employees in the city of SeaTac, and since the airport is the single largest employer in the area, fewer people — including those working for car rental companies at the airport — are affected by the measure than supporters originally hoped.
Car rental companies serving the Sea-Tac Airport are located in a consolidated rental car facility that falls under the Port of Seattle’s jurisdiction and thus are unaffected by the decision.
For and Against
The Washington State minimum wage of $9.32 is the highest in the country, but according to Heather Weiner of the union-backed political group Yes for SeaTac, the cost of living in the Seattle-Tacoma area is one of the highest in the state.
Weiner says that despite the airport having profitable car rental companies, airlines and other travel-related businesses, the city has one of the highest poverty rates in Washington state.
The drive behind the proposition is to guarantee airport employees’ wages that match the cost of living in SeaTac, regardless of experience, education or skill.
Besides the $15 minimum wage, employees would also receive paid sick and safe time and 100% of service-given charges and tips. Weiner states, “the reason voters approved the initiative is because they were seeing their friends, their family, their neighbors working full-time jobs yet still living in poverty.”
“The government should not be getting involved in the day-to-day operations and employee standards of a private enterprise,” says Doris Cassan, licensee of Dollar Rent A Car operating at Sea-Tac Airport.
Cassan and other opponents of Proposition 1 say that any measure enacted by a city, town or county that preempts state law sets a dangerous precedent, creating a patchwork of ordinances that make it difficult for businesses to operate under and for the state to enforce.
For instance, if the proposition were to include airport workers, employees at Cassan’s Dollar location in Sea-Tac Airport would be subjected to the pay hike and other rules, while her Dollar location in downtown Seattle would be exempt.
And according to Cassan, initiatives like Proposition 1 may very well spark a national trend. “Since the City of SeaTac has its own employment standards, other jurisdictions will want to join in the fray and have their own standards as well,” Cassan says.
Opponents point out that 90% of the workers projected to receive these benefits live outside the city of SeaTac, so the proposition would not be supporting workers in the city in which the proposition meant to support.
The Fight Continues
The issue is far from being decided, as both sides are mounting new legal and legislative challenges.
Opposition to the proposition drafted Senate Bill 6307, which states that the state of Washington preempts local jurisdictions in regards to employee wages, retention or hours. The bill is working its way through legislative committees, Cassan says.
Alaska Airlines has already sued in order to prevent the implementation of Proposition 1, but supporters are confident that the Washington State Supreme Court will reinstate Proposition 1. If so, all currently exempt business will owe wages dating back to Jan. 1, 2014.