When I saw the headline in the op-ed section of the Seattle Times—"Alaska Airlines should hire contractors that pay a living wage"—I at first feared the union-hating editorial board had suffered a collective stroke. Then I clicked through and realized that it was just a guest column from SeaTac deputy mayor Mia Gregerson. The editors sometimes allow that to demonstrate how open-minded they are.
The companies Alaska contracts with to provide ground services at SeaTac—handling bags, cleaning cabins, fueling planes—pay their workers at or near the minimum wage with few benefits and little job protection. It's kind of a disgrace that the dominant airline in Jet City treats its workers so badly, and as Gregerson points out, it has a terrible impact on the local economy:
As a SeaTac City Council member, I can see the impact of this poverty-wage airport economy every day. When so many people struggle to provide their families with life's basic needs, our neighborhoods suffer. Kids struggle to thrive in school. And South King County communities like mine struggle to build strong local economies without a solid base of living-wage jobs.
I have met with many airport workers, most recently at a community forum sponsored by Puget Sound Sage and Working Washington. These workers are my neighbors, friends and constituents. They are taxpayers who want to contribute to our economy. Some are immigrants and refugees from around the world who came here seeking opportunities for a better life. Many work multiple jobs. And almost none has access to health care outside of community health clinics and local emergency rooms.
In other words, we're subsidizing Alaska's profits by picking up the health care costs of their workers. Ain't free-market capitalism grand?