By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
SEATTLE — A letter signed by about 50 elected officials was delivered on Monday to the Port of Seattle urging the government agency that runs Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to embrace a citizen-approved initiative and raise the minimum wage for airport workers to $15 an hour.
Sponsors of the initiative adopted by city of SeaTac voters in November are behind the letter as a way to keep the pressure on the port and airport tenants. Port of Seattle commissioners are scheduled to hold a public hearing on the issue on Tuesday in Seattle.
“The port leadership’s position on this matter is harming workers and their families, who expected and were entitled to the improvements in working conditions that voters approved,” the letter says. “The port’s position undermines the trust that voters put in you.”
The Port of Seattle has said it is taking a measured approach to the new law and wants to consider labor issues in a global way before making any decision on the minimum wage.
Letter signers include King County Council members, numerous state lawmakers including state House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, state Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, and newly appointed state Rep. Mia Gregerson, who is also mayor of SeaTac.
“It’s going to help keep the momentum alive,” Gregerson said. “The Port of Seattle commissioners are elected by the same constituents we serve.”
A King County Superior Court judge has ruled that the law applies to about 1,600 hotel and parking lot workers in SeaTac but not to employees and contractors working within Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is operated by the Port of Seattle. That decision is being appealed.
Heather Weiner of “Yes! For SeaTac” said the No. 1 purpose of the initiative was to make sure nearly 5,000 jobs inside the airport were improved by the pay increase.
Weiner said she wasn’t surprised that the airport’s biggest tenant, Alaska Airlines, is fighting the minimum wage increase through a lawsuit, but thinks the port needs to represent the citizens who elected the commissioners more than the companies that work in the airport.
Alaska Airlines, along with the Washington Restaurant Association and a company that runs concessions at the airport, claim SeaTac’s new law has legal problems because the airport answers to the federal government, not local cities. The company said it filed the lawsuit to request clarification.
Gregerson said she hopes the port will decide to adopt the new minimum wage now instead of waiting until the Washington Supreme Court makes a decision.
“I hope this is the nudge they need,” she said.
Larry Phillips, chair of the King County Council, wants the port, a big King County employer, to take a small step toward income equality.
“The port should try to find a way to help those who are working full-time at the airport to earn a living wage,” Phillips said.
Port spokesman Jason Kelly said the public hearing at 1 p.m. PST Tuesday will give people on both sides of the issue an opportunity to voice their opinions. He acknowledged the letter had been received and said he expected it would be part of the commission’s decision-making process.