Sound Progress

Research and insights from Puget Sound Sage.

New Study: $15 Minimum Wage – Single Best Option to Reduce Seattle’s Gender and Race Pay Gap

A new study by Puget Sound Sage concludes that a $15 minimum wage would create large scale benefits for women and people of color in Seattle, and effectively narrow our city’s gender and race pay gaps.  In a policy brief released today, Puget Sound Sage examines the potential outcomes of a $15 minimum wage on the local economy, assesses outcomes by industry sector, and demonstrates that a $15 minimum wage (with a phase-in only approach) is the single best option to reduce Seattle’s gender and race pay gap.

 Key findings from the policy brief include:

  • $526 million dollars will be added to the paychecks of Seattle’s lowest wage workers: a wage increase that is significant for low-income families trying to make ends meet, but represents only 1.7% of Seattle employers’ total payroll costs. 
  • This infusion of new earnings will result in worker spending and re-spending, creating a total ripple effect of $625 million dollars to the regional economy.
  •  Women and people of color living in Seattle currently earn between 44% and 71% of what white men earn.
  • The over-representation of women and people of color in low-wage industries, such as food services, likely explains much of this pay gap.
  • Raising the minimum wage is the fastest and most targeted policy option to narrow the gender and race pay gap.

The brief concludes that well-crafted, phased-in increase in the minimum wage can support a thriving economy.

You can find the full report on our website

Why Living Wage Jobs are a Win for Transit Oriented Development and the Environment

There is no question that the success of SeaTac’s Prop. 1 is a win for workers.  But it is also a win for Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and our region’s environmental goals.  Here is why: the $15 Airport Living Wage means more families will be able to live in their communities of choice.

Recently, the Puget Sound Equity Summit brought together communities across the region to explore strategies that ensure TOD will benefit low-income communities and communities of color.  Yet, when it comes to ensuring TOD is equitable the public discussion of policy solutions rarely goes beyond affordable housing.

Photo: The Seattle Times

Photo: The Seattle Times

Housing is only one side of the equation.  Living wage jobs are the other side.

Sound Transit light rail should be a regional connector to opportunity.  With soon-to-be three stations in SeaTac, the new living wage law is a big move in that direction.  Low-income communities all along the light rail corridor currently face gentrification and other factors that economically destabilize communities (see our report, TOD that’s Healthy, Green and Just). A $15 an hour living wage at the end of the light rail will allow low-wage workers to prosper in in place.

How? Let’s use Rainier Valley as an example.   An estimated 650 people who live in Seattle’s Rainier Valley work in the city of SeaTac.[1]   With airport, hotel and ground transportation jobs making up the vast majority of employment in this small city, hundreds of Valley residents will likely benefit from Prop. 1 (see who is covered, here). Previous to Prop. 1, many of these residents not only made near-poverty wages, few had seen their wage increase over the last five years.

At the same time their wages remained low, the cost of living rose in their neighborhoods, which threatened low-wage airport workers with displacement.  The economic pressure between higher costs and stagnant income causes many families to relocate further outside of the city where the cost of living is cheaper, and where they are also more likely to need a car to drive to work.  A $15 living wage dramatically changes their odds of being able to stay in their neighborhood of choice.

More money in the pockets of these Rainier Valley families will mean their family earnings will grow with the neighborhood.  Instead of new community investments resulting in insurmountable rent increases, workers making a living wage will be more able to take cost of living increases in stride and benefit from the new infrastructure in their neighborhood.

Earning wages that families can actually live on, more people will be able to live in their communities of choice, close to transit and opportunity.   It also means fewer car trips for these residents, better environmental outcomes and a big overall win TOD near light rail.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau, OnTheMap Application and LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics (Beginning of Quarter Employment, 2nd Quarter 2002-2011). 

How a $15 Dollar Living Wage Helps Bridge the Race Pay Gap

The Atlantic

The Atlantic, “The Workforce Is Even More Divided by Race Than You Think”

By Nicole Vallestero-Keenan and Coco Chandi

How much you make is tied to race and gender. According to findings posted last week in The Atlantic, labor statistics show that the US workforce is stratified by race and gender. This is no newsflash to women and people of color, but the statistics below should be at the center of Seattle’s living wage debate.

Why the disparity shown in the graph? It’s partly a function of who works in what sector of the economy. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the article shows that your race has a significant influence on the kind of job you have. Blacks, who make up 11% of the workforce, represent 33% of home health aides and 25% of security guards and drivers. Latinos, who account for 15% of the workforce, represent 44% of grounds maintenance workers and 43% maids and housecleaners. Asians account for only 5% of the workforce, but represent 60% of personal appearance workers (nail salons, hairdressers, etc).

The bottom line: job sectors heavily represented by people of color and women pay lower wages. However, in SeaTac voters recently approved an industry specific living wage of $15 an hour and the measure itself shows a path forward to addressing inequity across industries.

SeaTac’s Proposition 1 covers jobs that are disproportionately held by people of color: security guards, janitors, service workers, cabin cleaners and housecleaners at hotels. When implemented, the living wage will provide a $15 dollar wage floor, paid sick leave, and job security for over 6,000 workers in the City of SeaTac .

Not only will workers in these industries earn living wages, but the measure will also boost local economic activity, bring more business to local (many people of color-owned) businesses, and create more jobs in the region. Living wage requirements don’t just help tackle income inequality, they are a powerful tool to address race and gender pay gaps.

Victory for Prop 1 Won’t Stop Business Expansion at SeaTac Airport

Just last week the final tally came in on SeaTac’s proposition 1.  The “ayes” have it.

So the sky must be falling, right?  Afterall, opponents of the biggest campaign the City of SeaTac has ever seen have been claiming for months that businesses would close shop, employees would lose their jobs, and airlines would move their business away from SeaTac.

Wrong. Despite these claims, business appears to be booming at SeaTac airport.

Delta Airlines

Photo courtesy of AP

Rather than moving business away from SeaTac, some are making new investments.  In fact, Delta Airlines is making moves to expand business at SeaTac airport.  On election day, with a pending victory for living wages at SeaTac Airport, Delta Airlines announced, their plans to expand the Seattle market by adding 8 new daily non-stop flights, and a summer seasonal flight to Alaska. Demonstrating that with living wages, SeaTac Airport will grow as an international hub.

Are we seeing businesses close inside the airport?  Well, it looks like the opposite is happening for concessionaires inside the airport.  Just last week, the Port of Seattle announced that they are opening 4 new duty free stores, which plan to hire roughly 85 new employees.

Currently, Proposition 1 will cover roughly 6300 workers, but it looks like with these new shops and expanded flights, there will be even more living wage jobs at SeaTac Airport.

Post Election Analysis: A Guide to Businesses Covered by SeaTac’s Proposition 1

Now that Proposition 1 has passed, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of who will see a wage boost and better standards.  In our previous post, we highlighted that only companies that meet a size and employee threshold are covered.  Over the past nine months, we have obtained data on employer sizes from the Port of Seattle, Hoovers, King County property data, the Puget Sound Book of Lists and union organizers to compile our estimates of who is covered.  Below you’ll find our projected list of workplaces where living wage requirements should kick in on January 1st, 2014.

Note that the list is meant to be a guide, not a definitive answer to whether a particular company is covered or not.  For example, we may over-estimated employment for firms on the edge of Proposition 1’s threshold, and included them when they are not actually covered. Or companies may have grown or shrunk since we made our estimate.  But, most of the employers listed below are well above the thresholds and we are confident that they are covered. (The lists below are ordered by largest to smallest.)

Rental Car Agencies (and their contractors)

There are approximately 16 rental car agencies (and companies contracted to provide those agencies services) operating in SeaTac.  Below are seven that we estimate have more than 100 vehicles and 25 or more workers in SeaTac.



Golden Gate of Orlando

GCA Services Group

Avis Budget Group

Enterprise Rent a Car



Hotels or motels with over 100 rooms and more than 30 non-managerial employees will be covered by Proposition 1.  Below are two lists – one for hotels that we project meet both criteria and one for hotels that meet the room requirement but may or may not meet the employee threshold.

The following hotels are primarily the big ones on International Blvd, near SeaTac Airport.  We know the number of rooms at each hotel from King County Assessor’s information.  From other analysis, we estimate that they all have 30 or more employees.



DoubleTree Hilton




Hilton Seattle Airport


Holiday Inn


Clarion Hotel




Red Lion


Cedar Brook Lodge


Hampton Inn


Holiday Inn Express




The hotels below meet the room number requirement, but may or may not meet the 30 worker threshold.  We cannot confirm that these are covered by Prop 1 and did not include them in our prior estimates of the number of firms covered or workers affected.



Sleep Inn


Fairfield Inn


Red Roof Inn


La Quita Inn


Coast Gateway


Best Western


Hampton Inn 2


Comfort Inn


Super 8


Motel 6


Quality Inn


On-Airport Transportation Employers

There are hundreds of businesses that do business at the airport:  however, only a relatively small number related to air travel passengers and cargo are specifically covered by the initiative.   The list below includes companies that provide services defined in Proposition 1 and which we estimate have 25 or more employees at Sea-Tac Airport.

Menzies Aviation Group

Federal Express Corp

Bags Inc


DAL Global Services

Swissport US

Flight Services & Systems


Prime Flight

Aircraft Service Intl

Worldwide Flt Svcs

Intergrated Airline SVCS

World Service Co


Swissport Cargo SVCS


Aviation Safeguards

Hanjin Global

Swissport Fueling Inc

Matheson Postal SVCS

Menzies Aviation Cargo

Note that we estimated the size of these on-airport companies based on Port of Seattle security badge data obtained in January 2013.

Institutional Food Service or Retail Employers

These employers provide food service in public facilities, corporate cafeterias and meeting facilities.    The list below includes companies operating at Sea-Tac Airport that we estimate have a minimum of ten or more non-managerial or non-supervisory employees.  Note that many individual stores at Sea-Tac Airport are actually operated by HMS Host and Hudson News Group, so will not show up on the list.  These two companies account for nearly two-thirds of all workers in this category.

HMS Host

Hudson News Group

Concourse Concessions LLC

Concessions Intl

Filo Foods LLC

Massage Bar Inc

Latrelles Express Inc

Qdoba Rest Company


Food Systems Unlimited

VIP Hospitality

Fireworks LLC

Butter London

SeaTac Bar Group

Ivars Inc

Pallino Pastaria

Sodexo Magin


Dilettantes Mocha Bar

Travelex Currency Services

Body Shop

Vino Volo

In a recent Seattle Times article, the co-owners of an airport Quiznos also projected that their company will hiring more workers and may be covered soon.

Parking Lots and Garages

Parking lots and garages with over 100 spaces and over 25 employees are covered by the initiative.  (This excludes parking lots at stores and smaller parking garages in the city of SeaTac.)  We estimate that three parking companies, operating six facilities, meet both the employee and the employer threshold.  Other parking lots in SeaTac have more than 100 spaces, but likely fewer than 25 employees.

Doug Fox Airport Parking


Wally Park

Ground Transportation/Shuttle Firms

Shuttle and bus service providers that own ten or more shuttles, vans and busses, and employ more than 25 non-managerial employees in SeaTac are covered by Proposition 1. Although many companies run shuttle services to the airport, from around the Puget Sound and from Eastern Washington, only one operates primarily in King County – Shuttle Express.  (Other companies may or may not be covered based on how their fleet and number of employees are counted.)

Election Analysis: How SeaTac’s Proposition 1 Succeeded Against Powerful, Corporate Opposition

SeaTac’s Proposition 1 established an early lead on election night, which is very likely to hold as the last ballots are counted. Although a recount is likely and a legal challenge from opponents is already in the works, the initiative has succeeded and will ultimately prevail because of a campaign that was able to demonstrate living wage jobs are not only good for workers, but good for the local/regional economy.

The initiative is poised to win having faced opposition from a campaign of politically powerful corporate interests. The opposition campaign was funded by Alaska Airlines, the National Restaurant Association, the American Car Rental Association and the Koch brothers-backed Freedom Foundation. These national corporate interests threw both their money and their weight into this local election.

Three things were core to the campaign to win the SeaTac Good Jobs Initiative:

Sound Research that Showed the Initiative Would Lead to Economic Growth. Economic impact analysis showed how worker spending will multiply under the initaitve, resulting in up to $54 million of increased income for the region and more than 400 new local jobs. It also showed how an increase in earnings and spending will mean more revenue for local governments to pay for improved infrastructure such as schools, parks and public safety.

The analysis authored by Howard Greenwich and Nicole Vallestero Keenan was front page news in the Seattle Times and shifted the debate over the economic impacts of the policy.

Support from Small Businesses. Despite a powerful corporate campaign that attempted to paint the initiative has harmful to small business (the policy included an exemption for small businesses) local businesses publicly backed the initiative. Don Liberty, owner of the Bull Pen Bar and Grill was a key spokesperson in favor of the initiative. Puget Sound Sage engaged local small business owners, including Don, to demonstrate why they supported workforce requirements and paid fair wages to their employees.

Support from Faith Communities. SeaTac is a small city where personal relationships matter, and support from a trusted friend, teacher, minister or neighbor, business owner will sway votes. Even before the initiative campaign began local ministers, imams and community groups convened by Sage organizers were coming together to support living wage jobs at SeaTac Airport.

Rev. Jan Bolerjack of Riverton Park United Methodist Church, became a critical voice for the campaign and a media star. Her story about how airport workers come to her church’s food bank wearing their airport uniforms became the moral story of Proposition 1 for SeaTac voters.

SeaTac’s Prop 1 is a Bellwether in Living Wage Movement

Voters in the City of SeaTac this week appear to have approved a precedent-setting Living Wage ballot initiative, although ballots are still being counted.  The pending victory comes after a nearly year-long campaign by a strong community-labor partnership.

Even if Prop 1 wins, the campaign is not over, as Alaska Airlines and many of the funders backing the opposition campaign are likely pursuing legal measures to prevent the implementation of the voter approved law.

SeaTac’s Proposition 1 is not the first living wage at airports, but it has become the bellwether in the movement for a living wage.  The true benefit of Prop 1 lies not only in the living wage, but the comprehensive benefits and protections included in the language:

  • $15 dollar minimum wage indexed to inflation – for covered hotel, car rental, parking and airport service workers.
  • Paid Sick Days – workers accruing an hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked. For a full time employee, this is 6.5 days per year.
  • Worker Retention – replacement sub-contracting companies retaining the current workforce for 60 days.
  • Tips Theft Protection – ensuring that hotel service charges (tips) are paid entirely to workers, not kept by management.
  • Full Time Work – offering part-time employees the ability to work more hours before hiring new part-time employees.

The initiative covers large hotels, car rental firms, and airport parking in a zone surrounding the airport, and airport service workers, including retail and food service, plane cleaning and fueling, baggage loading, and wheelchair service. These interlocking, comprehensive benefits mean that not only will thousands of workers be lifted out of poverty, but they will also have more job security and better working conditions.

These policies will mean a win-win-win scenario for workers, businesses and the local economy.   Workers will see better standards, employers will see reduced turnover and improved performance, local businesses will have more customers, and the local economy will see a $54 million dollar wage boost.