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Backer defends SeaTac’s $15 minimum wage initiative

The city of SeaTac will vote in November on an initiative to raise the minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers to $15 an hour. (AP Photo/file)

The city of SeaTac will vote in November on an initiative to raise the minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers to $15 an hour. While some business owners tell KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show it will put them out of business, city officials disagree.

And on Monday, Dori heard for the first time from someone who supports the initiative. Heather Weiner, with the Good Jobs Initiative, says raising the minimum wage to $15 would simply ensure pay rates at Sea-Tac Airport match others for similar positions on the West Coast.

“There are other airports like San Jose, LA, San Francisco, Oakland, Long Beach, that have already been setting workplace standards for workers that include paid sick leave. Those airports sometimes even include health care benefits, and San Francisco has a wage standard that is above $15, I believe it’s $15.37 an hour,” says Weiner.

But the wage increase would break some businesses, according to the owner of a Quiznos in Sea-Tac’s B Concourse who appeared on Friday’s show.

“The $15 an hour minimum wage would – I’ll tell you right now frankly, and I’m not exaggerating – it would put us out of business. It would absolutely put us out of business,” Brett Habernicht told Dori.

Weiner says they definitely don’t want to hurt small business owners, but that in the Quiznos case, Habernicht has other options like asking for leeway under some of the Port of Seattle’s pricing rules, or restructuring some of his other costs to make his business more competitive.

“The way that he does that right is by making himself more competitive in the marketplace, not by pushing down the people that are working there,” says Weiner. “Many people who work at the airport have worked there for five, ten years without ever getting a raise, have actually had a decrease in their benefits, have seen a loss in their wages.”

“But whose fault is that?” asks Dori. “If that’s what the job pays and whatever market forces have driven down the salary in that job, isn’t it up to the individual to say ‘If they’re not paying me what I’m worth, I’m going to find a company that will?'”

Weiner argues workers have suffered because of the basics of economics – the supply of workers is far greater than the demand.

“So what happens is we have a tremendous number of workers in the marketplace right now who are still looking for jobs,” she says. “A lot of people are desperate and they will take a $10 an hour job, and then work two of them, or try to work overtime to make ends meet.”

But Dori notes those same market forces apply to business owners as well.

“And when unions and government collude against business owners who are the job creators, the ones who provide all the taxes so government can do all the wondrous things it does, who is looking out for them? They’ve had a real tough go for several years now since the Great Recession.”

Weiner agrees many have, but says there have been success stories, too. And with reports of CEOs’ big bonuses and big profits, she says the money is not trickling down.

“The woman who runs the food bank outside of SeaTac,” says Weiner, “she sees airport workers coming in there in their uniforms to get food for their families. That’s not good for our community to have people on public assistance while working two jobs.”

But if it’s true that this wage increase would shut down businesses at the airport, that means these workers would have no job at all, Dori says.

Weiner argues if these businesses can’t make it with the wage increase, there will be others that come in to take their place.

“Believe me that is a very, very profitable area over there because you have a trapped audience, you have very high turnover, another business that knows how to make a profit will be there.”

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