Sound Progress

Research and insights from Puget Sound Sage.

Why SeaTac’s Prop 1 is Neither the “Highest” nor a “Minimum Wage” Initiative

The Stranger

The Stranger

After months of legal challenge, SeaTac’s Proposition 1 is finally going to the November ballot after three judges over-ruled a lower court decision to stop it. As media attention has zeroed in on the courtroom drama, much of the debate rhetoric has referred to Proposition 1 as the highest proposed “minimum wage” law in the country.

Here’s the thing – it’s not a minimum wage, nor is it the highest wage requirement in the country.  On the west coast that honor goes to Los Angeles’ airport where the living wage floor is set at $15.37 an hour (plus paid sick leave and minimum training requirements).  According to National Employment Law Project, the highest airport living wage in the country is Saint Louis at $15.92 an hour.

Other airports have lower wage floors, but over twice as much paid time off than the 5 days proposed by SeaTac Proposition 1.

A minimum wage typically refers to a universal wage threshold that raises the floor for all workers. Some cities, in fact, have adopted broad minimum wage ordinances, similar in scope to Federal or state minimum wage laws – San Francisco, Santa Fe and, more recently, San Jose.

“Living wage” initiatives and ordinances, on the other hand, typically cover a narrower group of employers, such as airport employers (see our report Below the Radar) and hotel employers. Although it’s true that these ordinances do increase the wage minimum for a group of workers, they are not universal.

Why does this distinction matter? Using the term minimum wage implies that all workers in the city will be covered. This could be misleading to voters.

Accurately representing the initiative in media stories may frustrate copy editors and journalists as it requires longer, potentially clunky sentences. But clarity for voters seems imperative.

Here’s an example of clarity from the Puget Sound Business Journal:

“The initiative, which would boost the minimum wage for hospitality, transportation and airport-related workers to $15 an hour was ordered removed from the ballot on Monday by a King County Superior Court judge due to lack of enough valid signatures.”

More accurate yet would be description of the initiative as establishing a “living wage”

There are two ways that Proposition 1 does not fit the mold of a minimum wage.

1. The initiative only applies to travel-related business. The scope of coverage is narrowly limited to transportation employers (e.g., airport, shuttle and parking) and hospitality workers (airport concessions, hotels and conference centers). See this post on who it actually covers.

2. The initiative exempts many small and medium businesses. Businesses exempted include:

  • Airport businesses with 24 or fewer non-managerial employees.
  • Ground transportation businesses (like car rental agencies) with 24 or fewer non-managerial workers and less than 100 cars, 100 parking spots or 10 vans, depending on the type of company.
  • Hospitality businesses with 29 or fewer non-managerial employees and less than 100 rooms.
  • Airport concessionaires with 9 or fewer non-managerial Employees.

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