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A $15 an hour experiment: SeaTac voters approving minimum wage increase

roposition 1, to raise the minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour for workers connected to Sea-Tac Airport - rental cars, the hotels, restaurant workers - is leading 54 to 46 percent. (AP Photo/File)

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It looks like the minimum wage will be going up in SeaTac. Way up. Proposition 1, to raise the minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour for workers connected to Sea-Tac Airport – rental cars, the hotels, restaurant workers – is leading 53 to 47 percent.

Tracey Thompson, Local Teamster’s 117/Secretary-Treasurer led the cheers on election night.

“When we fight,” Thompson started, “We win!” the crowd cheered.

But former McDonalds CEO Ed Rensi certainly won’t be cheering. He was on Fox News in August with a stern warning.

“It’s all about union dues. It’s not about the minimum wage. Just stop and think about how inflationary it is. This is an open admission by state and federal politicians – with some notable exceptions – that they aren’t creative enough, or have enough policies, to create careers and create real jobs. So they go off on these tangents to deflect the American people,” said Rensi. “It’s inflationary and it will never work.”

Not so, says one of the big supporters of the minimum wage initiative, Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer of Second Avenue partners.

He says middle class workers have become much more productive, and they should be rewarded for it. “The $15 number is a sensible number because it was half way in between where it would be if it attracted inflation, which is about $10.50, and where it would be if it attracted productivity growth, which is about $22.”

I talked with Nick Hanauer for a recent edition of ROSSFIRE, he says there’s no way a higher minimum wage can hurt capitalism.

“If we paid workers more, then pension funds would be bigger and we would have plenty of capital to start all of the companies we want,” he said.

But what about the small business owners that will be forced to provide this wage increase?

“I’m the guy that went out and signed the papers, I’m the guy that went out and borrowed the money – my partner and I – and really, we risked everything,” said Brett Habernicht.

Habernicht owns a Quiznos restaurant on the B concourse at Sea-Tac Airport. In August, he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that he thinks this raise in the minimum wage will shut down his business.

“There’s a street pricing initiative that the Port of Seattle passed several years ago, which basically requires everybody in the port as a food vendor, you have to match the same pricing that’s out there on the street,” he said. “However, that same Quiznos franchisee that’s out on the street that maybe pays $2,500 to $3,000 a month in rent – we have to charge the exact same he does for a sandwich. But we’re paying, for example, last month – $14,000 in rent.”

Which of course is a huge difference. But then, you should be able to do a lot more business at the airport than on the street. In any case, with the passage of the minimum wage initiative in SeaTac, we’re about to find out who’s right.

KIRO Radio’s Owen Murphy contributed to this report.

Find more election coverage:
2013 Elections results
Voters approving SeaTac’s minimum wage proposition in early returns
Employer says raising SeaTac minimum wage to $15 an hour would put him out of business
Dave Ross: What to do about the sluggish economy

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