Workers won a big victory this month in the little Washington town of SeaTac with the success of passing Referendum 1 and its signature issue to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The vote was certified, and it passed by 50.6% (77 votes).
The town is named for the airport located between Seattle and Tacoma. Most of the people who live in this diverse community are dependent on jobs in and around the airport. It is estimated that 6300 workers at 72 airport-related businesses in and around SeaTac will directly benefit from passage of the referendum.
The Teamsters have been trying for 13 years to organize baggage handlers and other non-union airport workers. The obstacles they had faced seemed insurmountable. They were constantly blocked by anti-union laws and regulations and the targeting of union activists. Every time they had an organizing campaign that looked successful, the rank-and-file leaders were fired or intimidated.
Airports are under the Railway Labor Act, which means unions are required to organize a certain number of airports at the same time—in this case, including Hawaii. A few years ago, they decided to go directly to the community with a workers’ rights referendum. They joined together with HERE, which was organizing the large hotels and restaurants near the airport, and SEIU, which was working to organize Seattle fast-food workers.
The current minimum wage in Washington is $9.19, which is the highest in the country. The new minimum wage will be indexed to inflation. The referendum states that the new minimum wage will take effect on Jan. 1.