Above: Minimum Wage vote in SeaTac, supporters applaud early returns Ellen M. Banner, The Seattle Times
New Jersy voted to raise the minimum wage, and in SeaTac, WA a vote to raise the minimum wage for airport workers is leading. Other states will be voting on raising the minimum wage in upcoming elections. In South Dakota petitioners submitted enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot in November 2014. Petition campaigns are being waged in Alaska and Idaho as well.
SeaTac wage measure’s early lead raises hopes of backers
A SeaTac ballot measure to create a $15-an-hour minimum wage for airport-related workers took a narrow lead in initial results Tuesday.
With about 3,283 votes counted, SeaTac Proposition 1 led 54 percent to 46 percent — a difference of only 261 votes in a city with 12,000 registered voters.
At a campaign event in SeaTac, supporters were optimistic that uncounted votes would go their way.
“This means that the people who put fuel in jets may actually be able to buy a ticket on one,” said David Rolf, a vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
But Proposition 1 opponents said the race was too close to call Tuesday.
Washington’s mail-in voting system means ballots will continue to arrive after Election Day, and the outcome might not be known until Friday, said Scott Ostrander, general manager of Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac.
“It’s a really small margin,” said Ostrander, co-chair of a business-backed political committee opposed to Proposition 1. “We’re estimating there’s probably 6,500 to 6,800 ballots out there, and we’ve only probably seen about 50 percent.”
Proposition 1 would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for hospitality and transportation workers in and around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. That rate represents a 63 percent increase from Washington’s current minimum wage of $9.19, which will rise on Jan. 1 to $9.32, the highest of any state.
Proposition 1 also calls for annual increases tied to inflation, paid sick leave and tip protection. It would require employers to offer part-time workers more hours before hiring additional part-timers, and to keep employees for at least three months after an ownership change.
Supporters of Proposition 1 say it would lift minimum-wage workers out of poverty, give them more money to spend at local businesses and boost the economy. Opponents say it would force businesses to raise prices and cut staff, and would leave taxpayers footing the bill for enforcement costs.
The ballot measure would take effect Jan. 1, covering roughly 6,300 workers at 72 airport-related businesses in SeaTac, including hotels, car-rental companies and parking lots.
Taken together, the campaigns for and against the measure raised $2.1 million — about $170 per registered voter in SeaTac.
Proposition 1 is part of a broader national debate about income inequality and government’s role in improving worker wages at a time when many new jobs are low-paying and part-time.
It also reflects a desire by organized labor to reinvent itself and reverse a decades-long decline in union membership: Proposition 1 is supported by labor groups, and includes a waiver for employers with union contracts.
While Proposition 1 vote-counting could take some time, the minimum-wage debate appears headed for Seattle. Mayoral candidate Ed Murray, who held a strong lead in initial returns Tuesday, said he supports raising the city’s wage floor to $15 an hour.
“Voters are tired of waiting for CEOs or Congress to do the right thing for workers,” said SEIU’s Rolf. “Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen a 725 percent increase in CEO pay, and 80 percent of all economic growth has gone to the top 1 percent.
“It’s time to take matters into our own hands,” he said.
Seattle Times business reporter Coral Garnick contributed to this story.
N.J. voters approve constitutional amendment raising minimum wage
Voters also approved a ballot question that allows veterans groups to use the proceeds from the bingo, raffles and other games of chance to repair their meeting halls or cover other building expenses.
The business community put up a tough fight to defeat the minimum wage measure, spending about $1 million to persuade the public the measure will lead to job losses and undermine their ability to move past the lingering effects of the recession. But they were outspent by unions and other supporters who raised $1.3 million to wage a very public campaign that included large rallies in cities across the state.
In the end, the amendment passed with nearly 61 percent supporting it.
“New Jersey’s voters should be thanked tonight for understanding that the state’s low-wage workers need more than $7.25 an hour to survive in this high-cost state,” said Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank that advocated for passage. “Increasing New Jersey’s minimum wage will give nearly half a million working New Jerseyans a crucial leg up while pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s economy.”
MacInnes’ group has said raising the minimum wage will have a ripple effect and increase the pay for roughly 400,000 people who earn $9.25 an hour and less — a claim opponents called disingenuous.
“With the increase, New Jersey becomes the 20th state to establish a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum,” of $7.25, MacInnes added. “This will prevent the wage floor’s real value from eroding over time as it has in the past, and it will ensure that New Jersey’s low-wage workers don’t fall even further behind.”
Laurie Ehlbeck, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, accused supporters of minimum wage question of mislead the public by not explaining how their vote will drive future wage increases for years to come.
“People don’t realize it’s not just the minimum wage,” she said. “Most people think, ‘who can live on $7.25 an hour?’”
“We honestly believe there will be a loss of jobs and opportunities,” Ehlbeck said. “They are not going to hire someone, they will give an employee fewer hours, they may reduce the benefits. They don’t want to do anything to hurt their employees, but they are working on a very small profit margin.”
Despite her disappointment in the vote, Ehlbeck said she was pleased Gov. Chris Christie will get a second term. “Small business is the backbone of New Jersey’s economy and we’ll have a Governor for four more years who understands that,” she said. “That’s very encouraging.”
But not all business owners opposed the measure. Members of the New Jersey Main Street Alliance released a statement explaining why they thought a higher minimum wage was a win for everyone.
“A higher minimum wage will actually help business owners by reducing absenteeism and worker turnover, which costs businesses way more than nickel and dime-ing on wages,” Mitch Cahn, president of Unionwear, a clothing manufacturer in Newark with 120 employees, said. “Secure workers earning a living wage are productive workers and better consumers. A higher minimum wage just makes fiscal sense.”