SeaTac’s minimum-wage initiative has activists cheering, businesses fearing.

$15-an-hour proposal has activists cheering, businesses fearing.
Erik Smith |   October 2013   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

By now, voters in the city of SeaTac may be getting an idea of what it’s like to live in Ohio during presidential primary season: fliers in the mailbox, phones ringing incessantly, canvassers knocking on doors. And if they’re not registered voters, no worries: Someone will bring the form to their homes.

As this story goes to press, one of the more momentous ballot measures anywhere in the country is the subject of a flurry of courtroom filings that may or may not put a national campaign for a $15-an-hour minimum wage before voters for the first time. In SeaTac, a small King County city of 27,000 dominated by the multibillion-dollar enterprise that is Sea-Tac International Airport, a few thousand votes is all it will take to give activists and organizers their first major victory in a national effort for what they call a “living wage.” The SeaTac Good Jobs Initiative would create one of the nation’s highest minimum wages—$15 an hour—for workers at Sea-Tac International Airport and surrounding hotels, parking lots and car-rental facilities. Retail stores with fewer than 10 workers, hotels with fewer than 30 workers and other enterprises with fewer than 25 workers would be exempt, along with free-standing restaurants and retail stores that are not part of hotels.

San Francisco now has the highest minimum wage for a municipality: $10.17. Presuming the measure survives legal challenges, SeaTac has become ground zero for a national campaign feared by business and cheered by labor. “By October, I think most people will have made up their minds,” says Heather Weiner, spokesperson for the campaign supporting the initiative. “And I think there probably will be a lot of discussion aimed at the very few undecided voters that are still out there.”

The initiative is the result of a petition drive from Working Washington, an organizing arm of the Service Employees International Union. It garnered more than 2,500 signatures within the city limits. The effort is on the leading edge of a national campaign in cities across America with the goal of raising the minimum wage and imposing labor-friendly standards on the workplace. But while in most cities, including Seattle and Chicago, the campaigns have involved rallies and demonstrations—often in front of fast-food restaurants—the SeaTac initiative, if successful, would have the force of law and could affect not only the city of SeaTac but also the operations of an airport that a 2007 report concluded

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