Labor
5:08 pm
Tue December 31, 2013

Highest Minimum Wage In US Takes Effect In SeaTac

The nation's highest minimum wage goes into effect Wednesday in the city of SeaTac, Wash. For all the national attention the new $15 an hour minimum has received, it affects a small number of businesses.

Karnail Singh owns the Sea-Tac Crest Motor Inn just south of Sea-Tac International Airport. He's a small business owner, with just eight employees, small enough to be exempt from the new minimum-wage law approved by SeaTac voters this fall.

Singh says even exempt small business owners are unhappy about the minimum wage in town rising by nearly $6.

"It will be hard to find good workers in future for us," he says.

Singh says he currently pays his housekeepers, desk clerks and shuttle drivers less than $15 an hour. He worries he'll have to compete with SeaTac's big hotels, which do have to pay their workers $15 or more an hour in the new year.

"I have no choice, if people don't stay work with us and go with the big business, make more money, then I have no choice, I have to raise it," he says.

The new law covers large hotels and large parking lots but exempts most other businesses.

Of course, supporters of the new law are hoping it will spread beyond the workers it directly benefits in one small town next to a big airport.

Supporters say they will appeal a King County Superior Court judge's Dec. 27 ruling that businesses inside Sea-Tac International Airport don't have to comply with the new law. With that ruling, the law covers only about one-fourth as many workers as it would otherwise, according to estimates by labor groups.

Some activists see the Seattle area as the epicenter of a renewed labor movement nationwide. Seattle's new mayor Ed Murray and new socialist council member Kshama Sawant have both called for a $15 minimum wage in their city.

Washington already has the nation's highest statewide minimum wage.

It's going up 13 cents to keep up with inflation. Starting Wednesday, the new statewide minimum is $9.32 an hour.