City of SeaTac "Good Jobs Initiative" Minimum Wage Increase, Proposition 1 (November 2013)
A City of SeaTac "Good Jobs Initiative" Minimum Wage Increase, Proposition 1 ballot question was on the November 5, 2013, election ballot in King County, which is in Washington. It was narrowly approved. Opponents requested a recount because the approval margin was so small, at only 77 votes. But after the county elections office counted the results again by hand, Proposition 1 was still in the lead and held on to its narrow victory.
Although Proposition 1 was narrowly approved, King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas ruled on December 27, 2013, that the city ordinance boosting minimum wages for certain employees to $15 per hour enacted by Proposition 1 could not apply to airport employees but only to hotels and transportation industry workers in the city. It was based on the argument that the airport belongs to the jurisdiction of the Port of Seattle not the city of SeaTac. This decision left only about 1,600 employees out of the intended 6,300 who received increased wages beginning January 1, 2014. Yes! for SeaTac, the group behind the initiative planned to immediately appeal this decision in State Supreme Court.
On the night of November 5, when preliminary vote counts showed Proposition 1 being approved by about 54%, proponents declared a victory; but their celebration proved to be premature. With the next few vote count updates, the margin between yes and no votes closed to only 19 votes between approval of Prop 1 and its defeat. After the official certification of election results, the vote count margin was 77 votes in favor.
Proposition 1 produced a very disproportionately well funded battle in the small city of SeaTac. In the city of only 12,100 registered voters, support and opposition campaigns received contributions totaling $1,585,763. This amounts to $131.05 per registered voter and, with the projected voter-turnout of 55%, this figure rises to about $238 per vote.
At the time of its passage, the measure, known by supporters as the "Good Jobs Initiative," implemented several requirements for the airport and related employers throughout the city. The proposed ordinance established:
- a mandatory paid sick time to all employees
- a minimum wage of $15 per hour
- regulated allocation of tips and service charges
- the prohibition of any shared tip systems
- a "Qualified Displaced Workers list," from which employers must make new hires based on list senority
- that employers cannot hire anyone not on the "Qualified Displaced Workers list" unless the list is empty
Proposition 1 gave SeaTac the highest minimum wage and the most highly regulated working conditions and wages in the nation. The fairly small city of SeaTac had a population of 26,000 in 2013, but it was home to the 16th busiest airport in the nation.
Although the Los Angeles airport workers were payed a minimum of $15.75 under a living wage ordinance, Ken Jacobs, chair of the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, said that Proposition 1 is a different case because “having a municipality that essentially is the airport" is unique. In 2013 the highest government enforced minimum wages in the country were:
- San Francisco at $10.55 per hour.
- Washington state at $9.19 per hour
- California will likely have a minimum wage of $10 per hour by 2016
Although the Proposition 1 minimum wage only applied to airport and hotel workers, according to Gary Smith, all of the businesses in SeaTac including small businesses were expected to have to raise wages to stay competitive and continue to hire valuable employees.
Before the vote count was even certified, Proposition 1 opponents opened a lawsuit trying to show the illegality of Proposition 1.
A former employee of Extra Car Airport Parking is suing the company for not giving her $15 per hour after Proposition 1 was approved. This is the first legal test of the enforcement of the "Good Jobs Initiative." Lou Lehman is one of the main plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit that seeks to make Extra Car Airport Parking back pay about forty employees $15 per hour starting on January 1, 2014, which was the effective date of Proposition 1. The suit also demands damages in the amount of double the wages owed and interest on the money owed. Martin Garfinkel, of Schroeter Goldmark & Bender in Seattle, is the lawyer for the plaintiffs.
This lawsuit will be the first instance showing the effectiveness of the citizen lawsuit enforcement method written into Proposition 1 in order to keep the costs of enforcement low for the city. Certainly, lawmakers in Seattle, who are considering a minimum wage of $15 per hour under pressure from the 15 Now group, will look on with interest at the outcome of this lawsuit.
Opponents called for a vote recount by hand because the margin for approval was so narrow.
|SeaTac Proposition 1|
|SeaTac Proposition 1|
- These final, certified results are from the King County elections office.
Text of measure
Language on the ballot:
This Ordinance requires certain hospitality and transportation employers to pay specified employees a $15.00 hourly minimum wage, adjusted annually for inflation, and pay sick and safe time of 1 hour per 40 hours worked. Tips shall be retained by workers who performed the services. Employers must offer additional hours to existing part-time employees before hiring from outside. SeaTac must establish auditing procedures to monitor and ensure compliance. Other labor standards are established.
- YES! For SeaTac
- Working Washington, an organizing arm of the Service Employees International Union
Arguments in favor
Heather Weiner, spokesperson and founder of YES! For SeaTac, speaking about the appeals court decision to put the initiative back on the November ballot, said, "This is an important victory. We want good middle class jobs back at the airport. Over the last ten years or so it's really declined. People who have worked there for 20 or 30 years are still making minimum wage with no paid sick leave and no job security."
- SeaTac Action Committee
- Common Sense SeaTac
- Alaska Airlines
A majority of businesses in SeaTac opposed this measure and several stated that, if it is approved, the proposed minimum wage increase would force them to close down.
Quiznos owner Brett Hebernicht said, "The $15 an hour minimum wage would - I'll tell you right now frankly, and I'm not exaggerating - it would put us out of business. It would absolutely put us out of business."
Scott Ostrander, manager of Cedarbrook Lodge and part of the group Common Sense SeaTac, said, “As with any business, people get paid according to their skill sets and their business. This is going to impact the entire employee base because you are going to have to put everyone up to a higher wage.’’
| Total campaign cash |
as of October 28, 2013
The Yes for SeaTac Campaign raised $941,065 in its campaign to get the measure on the ballot and support it before the election. This amounted to $77.77 per registered voter and $141 per actual expected vote.
Common Sense SeaTac, the committee in opposition to Proposition 1, raised $644,698 for its war chest, $160,000 of which came from the SeaTac based Alaska Airlines. Other contributions had been given by businesses throughout the city that would be affected by the minimum wage hike. The opposition campaign bank roll amounted to $53.28 per registered voter and $96.87 per actual expected vote.
Together the two campaigns had already spent $1.1 million by October of 2013. It was estimated that, with the expected voter turnout of 55%, if both sides spent all of their money, the pro and con campaign costs together would sum up to $238 per vote, which was some of the highest per-vote campaign spending on record.
Path to the ballot
The group YES! For SeaTac as well as other supporters gathered 2,506 signatures in order to qualify Proposition 1 for the November ballot.
When a lawsuit was filed by Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association seeking to keep the measure from the ballot over signature validity concerns, Judge Andrea Darvas of the King County Superior Court removed the initiative from the ballot by throwing out both versions of duplicate signatures that were found. This left the petitioners 61 signatures short of the required threshold of 1,536 valid signatures. Proposition 1 petitioners scrambled to collect and turn in nearly 250 more signatures and on September 6, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington, taking into account 248 new signatures submitted on August 27, overruled Darvas and ordered the measure back on the ballot.
- Status: Decided in favor of Plaintiffs
Before the vote count was even certified, Proposition 1 opponents opened a lawsuit, which was ultimately successful, trying to show the illegality of Proposition 1. This suit, which was an amended complaint by Filo Foods, Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association, claimed that the measure raising the minimum wage for Airport employees and others was illegal because it falls outside of the jurisdiction of the city of SeaTac and the initiative power. Harry Korrell of Davis Wright Tremaine, the lawyer representing the Prop 1 opposition, argued that because the Airport falls under the control of the Port of Seattle not the city of SeaTac, the city ordinance cannot apply to the airport employees. In response to those who said the suit should have waited until the results of the election were final, Korrell said, “Any company affected by this will have to make adjustments to its pay scale and comply with a host of new regulations. It would be better to know before January 1 if this measure is illegal, as we believe it is.”
King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas ruled on December 27, 2013, that the city ordinance boosting minimum wages for certain employees to $15 per hour enacted by Proposition 1 could not apply to airport employees but only to hotels and transportation industry workers in the city. The ruling sided with plaintiffs Filo Foods, Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association, who claimed that the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport falls under the jurisdiction of the Port of Seattle not the city. This ruling leaves only about 1,600 workers in the city of SeaTac itself that will receive the increased minimum wage out of the 6,300 that Prop 1 proponents were hoping it would affect. Yes! for SeaTac, the group behind Proposition 1, plan to immediately appeal the decision in State Supreme Court. In the meantime, a letter signed by over 50 elected officials was delivered to the Port of Seattle on February 10, 2014, urging government officials to honor SeaTac voters and impose Proposition 1 provisions on the Airport themselves.
Previously the same plaintiffs claimed that Proposition 1 was illegal because it was in conflict with certain federal laws including the Railway Labor Act. Filo Foods specifically claims that its employees “have not chosen to be represented by a union, but the proposed ordinance improperly encourages unionization and collective bargaining.”
- July: Petitioners turned in 2,506 signatures
- August 26: Judge Andrea Darvas ordered the initiative removed from the ballot
- August 27: Petitioners turned in an additional 248 signatures
- August 28: Supporters asked court to consider new signatures in appeal of original decision
- September 6: Darvas' decision was overruled in appeals court and the measure was put back on the ballot
- December 27: Darvas rules Prop. 1 does not apply to Airport employees, reducing the number of workers received Prop. 1 benefits from approx. 6,300 to 1,600.
- Note: A court decision ruled that the city ordinance did not have authority over airport employees, reducing the number of workers Prop. 1 applies to from 6,300 to 1,600.
The proposition was designed to affect only those who work in the airport, hotel and related industries. It was estimated the measure would increase wages and impose sick leave requirements for 6,300 jobs at 72 businesses through out the city, due to the new employment standards. This amounted to about 25% of all jobs in the city. Below is a break down of which industries were affected and the number of employees in each that Prop. 1 was designed to apply to:
Reports and analyses
A nonprofit community and labor organization that supported Proposition 1, Puget Sound Sage, released a 32-page report on their analysis of the economic benefits of the $15 per hour minimum wage. The report estimated that wages for affected workers would increase by $40 million per year and that, with increased spending, 400 new jobs and $14 million per year additional income would be produced in the area.
Opponents of Proposition 1 said that the research done by Puget Sound Sage was not showing the whole picture of the economic effects of Proposition 1. Pointing to research by David Neumark, department of economics at the University of California, and William L. Wascher, board of governors of the Federal Reserve System in the research and statistics department, as well as other research done on the subject, critics of the Puget Sound Sage study claimed that increasing mandated minimum wages tends to decrease employment, especially for unskilled laborers. They also pointed out that, while there would be a pay-check boost, the study forgets to look into where that money would come from. Those who think Proposition 1 was harmful to SeaTac said that in some cases it would force the applicable employers to raise product prices, making them unable to compete with the surrounding employers and possibly go out of business, which would be a factor in the expected reduction in employment.
- November 5, 2013 ballot measures in Washington
- King County, Washington ballot measures
- Laws governing local ballot measures in Washington
- SeaTac Action Committee website
- 2013 Informed Voter Guide
- Yes for SeaTac campaign website, prop 1
- Common Sense SeaTac anti-Prop 1 campaign website
- The full text of the ordinance
- A summary of the ordinance.
- Washington Policy Center, "Study Endorsing SeaTac’s Proposition 1 Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story"
- Study on effects of higher minimum wages
- Sound Progress, "Who is Covered by SeaTac’s Proposition 1 (and Who is Not)?," September 12, 2013
- The Seattle Times, "Both sides brace for impact of SeaTac wage measure," November 23, 2013
- KOMO News, "Officials urge Port of Seattle to adopt $15 wage at Sea-Tac," February 11, 2014
- The Raw Story, "How a tiny airport town near Seattle led the new movement against low wages," February 22, 2014
- Seattle Times, "SeaTac $15 minimum wage survives recount," December 9, 2013
- The Seattle Times, "SeaTac wage measure is still nearly tied, back in court," November 12, 2013
- The Daily News Online, "Officials pressure Port of Seattle about $15 wage," February 10, 2014
- Chicago Tribune, "Backers of $15 minimum wage declare victory in Seattle suburb," November 6, 2013
- SeaTac Action Committee website, "Proposition 1, Ordinance Summary," accessed September 10, 2013"
- NBC News Business, "Voters weigh $15 hourly minimum wage for airport, hotel workers," October 18, 2013
- Q13Fox, "Court orders SeaTac $15-an-hour wage measure back on ballot," September 6, 2013
- Q13Fox, "Lawsuit filed over removal of SeaTac minimum wage initiative from ballot," August 28, 2013
- SeaTac Voters OK $15 Minimum Wage; Recount Requested, November 26, 2013
- Yes for SeaTac campaign website, prop 1
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- Washington State Wire, "SeaTac Will Vote on Minimum Wage Initiative After All," September 7, 2013
- MYNorthwest.com, "Appeals court approves SeaTac minimum wage ballot measure," September 6, 2013
- Seattle Times, "Group says it has signatures for SeaTac wage initiative," August 27, 2013
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Cite error: Invalid
- The Seattle Times, "$94 per voter, and counting: SeaTac wage measure draws big bucks," October 28, 2013
- The Seattle Times, "Study says SeaTac’s Prop 1 would boost economy by $54M," September 26, 2013
- Foundations and Trends, "Minimum Wages and Employment," by David Neumark and William L. Wascher
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