SeaTac Prop 1: Yes to a living wage for workers

Guest Opinion: The question is whether the people who work at the airport can afford to live here and feed their families.
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Roxan Seibel

Guest Opinion: The question is whether the people who work at the airport can afford to live here and feed their families.

People who work for a living at Sea-Tac deserve to earn a living

In 1911, 146 women garment makers in New York City died tragically in a fire because the Triangle Shirt Company refused to ensure proper workplace safety. In response, women made history by forcing changes in public policy over the objections of corporate CEOs, from workplace safety to the Lily Ledbetter equal pay law signed last year.

That’s what SeaTac’s Proposition 1 is all about: Making sure that airport corporations making millions of dollars every year in our community do right by our community by paying living wages for over 6,300 parents and hard-working people just like me.

People need to focus on that, not get off some side issue. For instance, I was troubled when, after Seattle Times Editor Lynn Varner and I discussed Proposition One, she didn’t hear what I was saying. In her column, Minimum-wage debate in SeaTac should be about higher education (October 3, 2013), Varner wrote the real issue behind the debate isn’t whether people who work for a living should be paid a living wage. She argued it’s about the long-term promise of the state’s legislature making a quality higher education attainable for people like me.  

Regardless of anyone’s education level, the question is whether the people who work at the airport can afford to live here and feed their families. According to a recent study featured in The Seattle Times, more than 6,300 people, working for record-profit making transportation and hospitality corporations, currently make an average of $1,472 a month. That’s just below the federal poverty threshold for a family of three and far below a monthly budget required to make ends meet in the region for a family of three ($4,136).

I encourage my daughters to get an education. However people who work for a living deserve to be treated fairly regardless of whether or not they went to college. As the economy continues to offer more part-time jobs that pay less, we need laws like Proposition 1 now, not the vague promise of an affordable higher education years down the road. 

I’ve worked at Sea-Tac Airport for 30 years and I still make less than $15 per hour; I’ve never had a single day of paid sick leave. I’m a single mother with two daughters that I’ve raised on my own; one of my daughters needed a feeding tube and required extra care for many years. 

I’m not alone. My coworker, Evelyn Orlano, works seven days a week at two part-time jobs at the airport. According to a recent article in the Puget Sound Business Journal, Evelyn is also a mom in her 50s who takes care of her aging mother. Despite putting in more than 40 hours per week, she takes home about $1,540 each month and has no paid sick leave. There are thousands of employees at Sea-Tac Airport and large hotels who work full-time and struggle to take care for our families. By pushing our employers to do the right thing, Proposition 1 will help all of us make ends meet, and more importantly, move all of SeaTac back in the right direction by pumping $54 million back into our local economy. 

But Varner implies that the mere possibility of attempting positive change through an economic shot in the arm isn’t worth it. For her, I wouldn’t be struggling if I’d just worked harder or gone back to college. The implication is that I deserve to live in poverty, despite working a fulltime job, because I didn’t have the same opportunities others had. 

Congressman Adam Smith says the reason he supports SeaTac Proposition 1 is because his dad made enough as a baggage handler to support his family 30 years ago. Today, that same job doesn’t pay enough to keep hundreds of baggage handlers out of poverty and off public assistance. That’s one reason why the city of SeaTac has one of the highest (16.4 percent) poverty rates in King County. That’s one reason why passing SeaTac’s Proposition 1 this November is the right thing to do.


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