Opponents of a ballot initiative that would raise the minimum wage for workers at some businesses in and around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to $15 announced on Tuesday that they were calling for a recount in the narrowly decided and closely watched contest.
The prospect of a recount and more legal hurdles hardly stopped supporters from celebrating their narrow victory in the three-week-long vote count by King County Elections. The initiative, SeaTac Proposition 1, which eked out a 77-vote victory, has garnered national attention as other cities, including Seattle, weigh the merits of upping their minimum wages. Supporters pointed to the measure's potential for spurring wider action.
The hot-button ballot measure continues to pit business owners, who say they can’t afford the 63 percent wage hike, against workers ,who say they can’t make ends meet. Proposition 1 is also facing legal challenges. Two small food businesses, Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association have a case pending against the city of SeaTac, the city's clerk and the Port of Seattle in King County Superior Court, contending the ballot measure violates state and federal laws.
“When an election is this close, everyone should be assured the outcome is as certain as possible,” Scott Ostrander, co-chair of Common Sense SeaTac, the campaign opposed to the initiative, said in an emailed statement about the recount.
Common Sense SeaTac has requested a hand recount, which, according to Kim van Ekstrom, chief communications officer for King County Elections, will likely get underway next week. “We’ll get on it really quickly because we’re anxious to get it done,” she said.
SeaTac voters cast a total of 6,003 ballots for and against Proposition 1. Certified election results released on Tuesday show 50.64 percent of those votes for the measure, with 49.36 percent opposed.
Around the time Common Sense Seattle announced the recount request, supporters of Proposition 1 were extolling its passage at a press conference in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s Arrival Hall.
“Workers at Sea-Tac deserve better pay and better benefits,” said Sergio Salinas, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 6, and a backer of the Yes! for SeaTac campaign. “We are making history nationally.”
Labor organizations contributed heftily to the Yes! for SeaTac campaign. One of the top donors was the SEIU Washington State Council, which gave $165,000. The Service Employees International Union gave $106,000 and SEIU Healthcare 775NW chipped in $50,000. In total, the campaign raised $1.4 million.
By comparison, the Common Sense Sea Tac campaign raised just over $665,000. Alaska Airlines gave $126,000, the Washington Lodging Political Action Committee contributed $109,000 and the American Car Rental Association dropped $100,000 in the pot.
Proposition 1 would apply to roughly 6,300 workers at 72 non-union businesses in and around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The initiative includes exemptions for off-airport restaurants that are not part of hotels, grocery stores and airport retail businesses with less than 10 employees, along with hotels and parking lots that are smaller-sized.
Washington’s current minimum wage is $9.19 per hour. In addition to the $5.81 bump in hourly pay, the initiative would provide up to 6.5 days of paid sick leave a year for full-time airport employees and would prevent owners taking over businesses from firing existing staff during the first three months.
“The upshot is that businesses will look to reduce costs either directly in labor, by reducing positions, or by creating other efficiencies,” said Common Sense SeaTac spokesman Gary Smith. Rental car companies, he said, could look toward automation and hotel restaurants might shy away from hiring servers and offer buffet style meals instead. “It’s likely there will be fewer jobs as a result of the initiative,” Smith said.
Dave Rolf, president of Service Employees International Union Local Healthcare 775NW, said at the press conference on Monday that concerns about job cuts are overblown. He cited an October 2013 report that discusses the effect of wage increases at California airports. Academic studies cited in the report found that the pay increases for low-wage workers did not cause the number of airport jobs to decline, but did reduce employee turnover rates.
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