The fight over raising the minimum wage at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport continues.
On Nov. 19, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and three allies committed civil disobedience near Alaska Airlines headquarters. Working Washington organized the event. Close to 100 people protested Alaska’s participation in a federal lawsuit against the Port of Seattle over a law that increases wages for airport support workers.
A little more than a week before the protest, Airlines for America, an industry trade group that includes Alaska, filed the lawsuit against the Port. The lawsuit is a result of the Port of Seattle Commissioners’ July vote to install a minimum-wage schedule for certain support workers: $11.22 in January 2015 and $13 in January 2017. The Port’s staff found many of these workers, who, among other things, provide catering, fueling and wheelchair services, currently earn the state’s minimum wage of $9.32. Port staff said the change would impact around 3,500 workers, who mostly work for independent contractors.
Airlines for America’s suit claims that federal law governs wages and employment at the airport. Moreover, the suit argues, many affected workers are represented by unions that negotiate contracts to decide wages and benefits. “We believe the law is clear, and the Port is exceeding its authority by attempting to regulate employment terms and conditions that relate directly to airline services and prices and interfere in the collective bargaining process,” said Airlines for America Senior Vice President David Berg.
In addition, the lawsuit states that the airlines will suffer “irreparable harm.” Airlines for America also represents other passenger carriers such as Delta, Jet Blue and Southwest airlines as well as freight carriers like UPS and Federal Express.
Perry Cooper, port spokesperson said, “Under Washington law, the Port of Seattle has the responsibility and authority to ensure safe, secure, efficient operations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.” He continued, “[C]ommissioners acted within that authority, creating a comprehensive policy designed to reduce employee turnover in key positions by ensuring fair compensation and increased career opportunities for the men and women who work in aeronautical positions.”
An Alaska Airlines statement said: “Alaska Airlines supports fair-wage jobs and voluntarily increased wages in April for more than 1,000 vendor employees at the airport, prior to the Port of Seattle taking action in this area. … Alaska’s pay increases will remain in place regardless of the outcome of this litigation.”
After Councilmember Sawant was released from custody, she made a statement. “Alaska Airlines is leading the charge on a federal lawsuit claiming the port has no authority to raise wages. What’s clear is they’d rather spend millions trying to overturn democracy than pay low-wage workers what they’ve earned.”