Port of Seattle Commission proposes new minimum wages at Sea-Tac Airport

A comprehensive wage and benefits proposal from the Port of Seattle Commission would raise minimum wages for thousands of airport workers to $13.00 by Jan. 1, 2017.

The proposal, unveiled at Tuesday’s port meeting at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, includes provisions for airport worker benefits and vacations and training for additional advancement. The commission intends to vote on the proposal, six months in development, at its July 1 meeting.

The port’s re-examination of wages and benefits was spurred in part by City of SeaTac’s voter approval of a $15 minimum wage last fall. Courts ruled, however, that municipal minimum wage boost doesn’t apply to the 14,000 low-wage workers at the airport.

The City of Seattle has also recently taken action to raise minimum wages in a stairstep fashion.

The port’s proposal, developed after study of other airports’ wage policies and consultation with businesses and labor unions and the public in two hearings, would be implemented in phases.

The first phase, to become effective next Jan. 1, would raise the minimum wage to $11.22 an hour for airport workers. The state minimum wage is now $9.32 an hour, the highest in the country, Total compensation would jump to $13.72 an hour on that same date. Courtney Gregoire, the Port of Seattle Commission’s co-president, said the commission felt that in addition to higher wages, it was important that workers have benefits. Under the port’s proposal, employers would decide what kinds of benefits they wanted to provide to workers as long as the costs were a minimum of the amount the commission set.

The commission, however, did dictate in its proposal that separate from other benefits, that workers be given paid time off at a minimum level of one hour for every 40 hours worked.

In the second phase, effective Jan. 1, 2017, cash wages would rise to at least $13.00 an hour. Total compensation including benefits would jump to $15.50 an hour.

In the next phase, effective a year later, wages and total compensation would rise in step with inflation.

The proposal made public Tuesday would apply only to workers such as baggage handlers and aircraft cleaners working with aircraft and transportation. Concession workers such as those working at the restaurants and shops inside the airport, will be the subject of a later proposal, said Gregoire.

Sea-Tac Managing Director Mark Reis told the commission the better wages and benefits would better not only the lives of airport workers but would have beneficial effects on employers.

In San Francisco where the airport implemented a minimum wage increase, employers found that job turnover declined dramatically, he said. At that airport, the annual turnover rate among the lowest-paid workers was 110 percent before the wage and benefit increases. That rate declined to 25 percent after the increases.

One airport contractor in the San Francisco Bay area told Sea-Tac executives that his job turnover rate is 15 percent annually at San Francisco International, while in similar jobs at a nearby airport without the higher wages, the annual turnover is 90 percent.

Reis said the greater job longevity at the airport will likely greatly decrease security violation incidents and improve efficiency because workers have learned their jobs well.