Guest Pro/Con: SeaTac Prop. 1 for a $15 minimum wage
SeaTac's Proposition 1 calls for a $15-an-hour "living wage" for an estimated 6,300 workers at Sea-Tac International Airport and its nearby hotels, car-rental agencies and parking lots. That represents a 63 percent pay raise over Washington state's current minimum wage of $9.19 an hour.
Vote yes on SeaTac Proposition 1
SSEATAC'S Proposition 1, the "Good Jobs Initiative" on the Nov. 5 ballot would create an estimated 400 new jobs and generate $54 million for the local economy. By putting more money in workers' pockets, a $15-an-hour living wage for people working for airport businesses can boost the economy, while also ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Proposition 1 is simply the right thing to do.
We remember when the area now known as SeaTac was a community where people could make a living with good-paying, middle-class jobs at the region's airport. Sea-Tac is where Adam Smith's father was able to make enough money, through years of hard work as a baggage handler, to support his family and give his son the opportunity to succeed and eventually become a member of Congress.
This is the town where Julia Patterson was able to get a good education at Tyee High School, raise her family and become the area's representative on the Metropolitan King County Council.Many people in SeaTac believe the airport will always be a major economic engine, a source of good jobs and economic prosperity for the community.
This is partially true. Today, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is the 15th busiest airport in the United States and businesses operating at and around it are doing very well. Last year, travelers spent $180 million at airport retailers and restaurants. Unfortunately, workers at the airport are not sharing in this success.
Despite being home to one of the biggest economic engines in King County, SeaTac has one of the highest poverty rates in King County: 16.4 percent of SeaTac's residents live in poverty, 19.2 percent rely on SNAP (federal food stamps) and 41 percent of SeaTac's families with young children live in poverty.
At some SeaTac-area schools, more than 90 percent of children qualify for free or reduced lunch. According to a recent report, about 6,300 Sea-Tac airport employees, who would be covered by Proposition 1, make an average of $17,664 a year, below the federal poverty threshold for a family of three -- and far below the average income in SeaTac, which is about $46,000 a year.
We need to ensure that companies and contractors operating in SeaTac do the right thing and reinvest in their workers. We need to ensure that employees earn a living wage and that paid sick days become standard so that SeaTac's families have a chance at having a middle class life.
In recent years, the concentration of income and wealth has increased, pushing more people out of the economy. Proposition 1's goal is to expand the middle class, encourage more people to participate in the economy and provide an equal opportunity at success.
People in SeaTac are working hard and yet still cannot make enough to support their families. Some of the people working at the airport are recent or first-generation immigrants, and many of those are refugees from war-torn countries like Somalia.
Others, like Roxan Seibel, Chris Smith and Alex Hoopes, are people who have worked at the airport for decades and are still making close to minimum wage. It doesn't matter who you are or where you came from, anyone who works hard at our airport should be able to make a living.
SeaTac's Proposition 1 is necessary to create jobs that families can count on to make ends meet. It's necessary to stimulate our economy through investing in workers. It's necessary simply because it's the right thing to do.
It's up to us to take control of our own legacy, to do what's right for our community and to provide equal opportunity for a middle-class life and a living wage. Proposition 1 would bring back decent paying jobs to SeaTac and give thousands of families a fair shot at success.
U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, represents SeaTac in Congress. Julia Patterson represents SeaTac on the Metropolitan King County Council.
Vote no on SeaTac Proposition 1
FOUR members of the SeaTac City Council, a majority, now publicly oppose Proposition 1, the $15 minimum wage initiative in our city. Besides me, they are Dave Bush, Pam Fernald and Rick Forschler.
Proposition 1 would hurt the people most in need of jobs, would burden the City of SeaTac, is unfair to our taxpayers and would harm our small businesses.
Requiring selected businesses to raise their minimum wage 63 percent is a drastic move with harmful consequences. If employers have to pay $15 an hour for entry-level work, plus a required 6.5 days of paid leave each year, they would choose from well-trained, well-educated applicants. Workers just starting out, such as teens and immigrants (of which SeaTac has many), would lose.
And there would be fewer of these jobs. The Washington Research Council estimated the higher wage would lead employers to eliminate 5 percent of these jobs through automation and other efficiencies, and to replace another 5 to 10 percent with higher-skilled applicants. Of the estimated 6,300 jobs the initiative would cover, that's nearly 1,000 at the lower end of the skill range who would lose out.
Proposition 1 would hurt SeaTac's small businesses because they compete for workers in the same market. With larger businesses paying $15 for entry-level jobs -- in some cases for identical work -- the rest would have to pay more, only without a captive customer base to pay higher prices.
All this would put a double whammy on the City of SeaTac. Our airport businesses and our small businesses would likely generate less tax revenue.
The kicker, though, is the new cost burden Proposition 1 puts on our city. The initiative requires SeaTac to audit its businesses to ensure compliance. It allows workers to make complaints, which the city is obliged to investigate. Disagreements would be costly to resolve. A study by Cardno consultants estimates the first five years would cost the city $2.5 million to $3.4 million.
How would SeaTac absorb $3 million in new costs over the next five years? That's as much as our last two big sidewalk projects combined. This money could pay for park maintenance or community center operating hours. It's 10 times as much as the special police department programs dealing with gang violence, domestic abuse, community crime prevention and school resource officers.
And the salt in the wound? Even the union backers admit 80 to 85 percent of the workers waiting for these benefits do not even live in our city. Other estimates are worse. The benefits flow out of SeaTac, but the costs stay with us.
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The unfairness built into Proposition 1 doesn't stop with sticking it to the taxpayers. It says everyone must comply with the law, unless they belong to a "certified bargaining unit," meaning a union.
This is a new approach to union organizing. Instead of sitting down to bargain, unions get a law that sets a high bar, but encourages businesses to negotiate for less. This would leave unionized workers in the unique situation of receiving less than the law requires and paying union dues for the privilege. This is an unjust public policy.
As City Council members, we're very aware of SeaTac's poor and minority communities and the services they need. Recent political refugees have a particularly tough time adjusting and integrating. Making fewer jobs available to them is unwise and would lead to more demands on city services. SeaTac needs policies that lead to more jobs and more justice, not less.
SeaTac's official policy is to aggressively attract and retain businesses and jobs, while maintaining reasonable laws and regulations. Proposition 1 undermines our city's jobs policy and I urge our voters to reject it.
Terry Jarvis Anderson helped lead the incorporation of SeaTac, served two terms as mayor and has served on the City Council since 1990.