Many hands carry a suitcase traveling from Los Angeles International Airport to SeaTac.
In LA, a checker drops it onto a conveyer belt, a baggage handler moves it onto a truck and a runway attendant drives the truck to the plane. Those airport employees make a minimum $15.37 an hour.
When the suitcase lands at SeaTac Airport, it meets another team of handlers and drivers. They do the same job as their Californian counterparts. Many of them even work for the same employer, but often, they make less money.
Many airport workers at SeaTac make the state’s minimum wage, $9.19.
A group called the SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs is working to change that. Instead of picketing the companies that operate out of SeaTac Airport, they’re appealing to voters to enact a law setting a $15-an-hour minimum wage for airline and hospitality workers in the city of SeaTac.
If passed, the law would be the first city-based minimum wage in Washington state and would give baggage handlers like Eric Frank a 50 percent raise. Frank makes $10 an hour at Menzies Aviation as a ramp agent and struggles to pay off his student loans and make his rent.
“We’re the ones that do all the work that make the businesses profitable in the first place,” Frank said.
San Francisco is among the few cities that have set a minimum wage. The city established a city minimum wage in 2004, now at $10.24 an hour.
The proposal in SeaTac sets a higher minimum wage for a limited subset of businesses. The $15 rate would apply to businesses related to the airport or service industries that exist because of the airport, including airlines, hotels, car rental companies and restaurants located at SeaTac Airport.
Businesses with fewer than 25 employees are exempt.
The law would also require businesses to provide paid sick leave and offer additional hours to part-time employees before hiring new staff.
If passed, SeaTac Airport workers would make a similar wage to other West Coast airport employees. Employees at airports in San Francisco, LA, San Jose and Oakland make between $12.43 and $15.37 an hour, per minimum wage laws enacted in those cities.
The SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs submitted the proposed law and required voter signatures to the city of SeaTac in May. The SeaTac City Council will consider the proposal and can pass the law as proposed or put it to the voters at an upcoming election, likely the general election in November.
With a median household income of $48,000, SeaTac residents are largely working class and likely to support minimum wage legislation, said Thea Levkovitz of Working Washington, a labor organization that is supporting the SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs. She said there are about 6,000 low-wage workers living in SeaTac.
“Many of them work at the airport, have family members who work at the airport,” she said. The law would bring more money into the community, she said.
The council will likely send the initiative to the voters, said Mayor Tony Anderson, who declined to give his opinion on the proposal because he is a police officer at the Port of Seattle.
“This needs to go to a vote of the people,” Anderson said. “I suspect the rest of the councilmembers feel the same way.”
Councilmember Rick Forschler is against the proposal, calling it a job-killing initiative pushed by government bureaucrats and union bosses.