Runway End Run

The Genius Plot to Empower Low-Wage Airport Workers

Runway End Run
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After years of negotiating, picketing, lobbying, and organizing, low-paid Sea-Tac Airport contract workers may have finally found a path toward a living wage and better working conditions: the ballot box.

Alaska Airlines, the dominant carrier at Sea-Tac Airport, could impose higher employment standards on its contractors, but has so far been unresponsive to workers' demands. Port of Seattle commissioner John Creighton says the port is sympathetic but believes it lacks the legal authority. So the workers are doing an end run around both Alaska and the port, taking their grievances directly to the people of SeaTac, the city in which the airport is entirely located.

In early May, a coalition of labor unions, community groups, and religious organizations filed a city initiative that would mandate employment standards within SeaTac's hospitality and transportation industry, including paid sick leave and a $15 an hour minimum wage. Within two weeks, organizers quickly collected more than 2,200 signatures, well more than the 1,541 needed to qualify for the fall ballot, and nearly half the number of people who voted in SeaTac's 2011 general election.

It's a clever use of the local initiative process—targeting a big airport located entirely within the boundaries of a relatively small city. And canvassers are almost giddy at the response they're getting from voters.

"Support at the doors is overwhelmingly positive," says Thea Levkovitz, spokeswoman for SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs, which is sponsoring the initiative. Airport workers don't just work within SeaTac city limits, Levkovitz explains; many of them live and shop there as well. "People are very aware that not only is there an impact for airport workers, but in the community," she says.

A recent report from Puget Sound Sage found that Sea-Tac Airport contract workers have by far the worst pay, benefits, and job protections of any major West Coast airport, a situation that only got worse after Alaska Airlines contracted out many of their jobs in 2005. For example, Alaska baggage handlers who made an average $13.41 an hour in 2005 were hired back by Menzies Aviation for only $8.75 an hour. Seven years later, these workers were averaging only $9.70 an hour, barely above the state minimum wage. Adjusted for inflation, that's a nearly 40 percent decline in real wages.

By comparison, workers at Oakland's airport make a minimum of $13.45 an hour, at San Jose, $14.71, and at Los Angeles, $15.37.

"Workers at LAX make $5 an hour more for handling the same bag. Literally the same bag," emphasizes Levkovitz. And yes, she's using the word literally correctly.

Once supporters turn in their petitions and the signatures are verified this summer, the SeaTac City Council will have the choice of either approving the measure or putting it on the November ballot. recommended


Comments (9) RSS

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Menzies is a terrible company that would literally (used correctly) work their employees to the point of death like a North Korean prison labor camp and discard their husks like so many peanut shells if it was legal. I worked for them loading bags for two months and their turnover rate is ridiculous, everyone that works there hates their job.
Posted by JakeP33 on May 29, 2013 at 10:56 AM · Report this
That would also jack up costs for hotels in the city.

And like any minimum wage, it will cost the jobs of workers who are not productive enough to merit at least $15 per hour. That means fewer workers would make the new minimum wage, and those fired will have to find work elsewhere.

There are always unintended consequences!
Posted by q9 on May 29, 2013 at 3:51 PM · Report this
So, just this once let's call the bluff of the the market rules types i.e.,"That means fewer workers would make the new minimum wage, and those fired will have to find work elsewhere.", let the jobs sort themselves out, then see if the total number of jobs grows or shrinks. I'm betting a net gain on both the pay per hour and the numbers of workers working.
Posted by Freedomboy on May 29, 2013 at 4:05 PM · Report this
We're already paying 'jacked-up' prices to pay absurd executive salaries. Why is it not OK to see prices jacked-up to give hundreds of our neighbors a much-deserved raise?
Posted by HOT PUSSY on May 29, 2013 at 4:10 PM · Report this
Is SeaTac airport within the city of SeaTac?
Or is the Port property an outholding?
Posted by Stevemo on May 29, 2013 at 9:04 PM · Report this
Heya Stranger, pay your interns a living wage.
Posted by j2patter on May 30, 2013 at 9:12 AM · Report this
Machiavelli 7
Our national minimum wage could be a factor of the nation's top 500 CEO/corporate wage packages. Maybe factor of congress's salaries.

Ship jobs to China to raise your profits? Tie the US workers wages to the size of the overseas workers employed. More workers over seas? Then higher wages paid at home.

Solders too, tie their wages to the industries that profit from the defense department. Maybe just a simple factor of the overall spending that congress lavishes on defense.
Posted by Machiavelli on May 31, 2013 at 6:28 PM · Report this
But, if the prices we all pay go up as a result of their much needed raise, then they arent really getting a raise at all, are they? And the rest of us effectively get a decrease!
Posted by DaveyJ on June 2, 2013 at 3:36 PM · Report this

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