About 4,700 workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are about to get a big raise. The Washington Supreme Court has ruled that the city of SeaTac’s $15 an hour minimum wage applies to airport employees.
It’s a busy afternoon at the airport. Passengers stand in long lines waiting to pass through security. Workers in a wide range of uniforms flit around them, seeing to their needs. They keep the lines orderly. They push elderly passengers around in wheelchairs.
Elsa Ogbe moves among the workers, handing them little pieces of paper.
Ogbe: “We’re passing out fliers to the workers so they can come out to the press conference later on and celebrate the victory.”
By "victory," she means the Supreme Court decision.
Liban Ahmed looks down at his hands.
Ahmed: “This lady just stopped me and gave me this little piece of paper that says we’ve won. I don’t know exactly what that means.”
It means he’s getting a big raise. He says now, he can afford to go see his mom back in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Ahmed: “It’s been 15 years so – she barely recognize me. Like my voice, when I speak to her on the phone? She wouldn’t recognize me because I came here when I was 12. And I’m almost 30 right now. So I’ve got to go visit my mom before something bad happens.”
News is spreading around the airport now. Workers are whispering to each other. Nobody’s celebrating out loud.
One man doesn’t even feel safe giving his name. He’s worried talk about the $15 minimum wage could get him in trouble.
Anonymous: “I feel like we should get it, but why it’s taken this long is beyond me.”
But for every person getting paid more there’s a business owner that’s doing the paying.
Cris Krisologo: “They pay the port the rent, they got high rents here. You got to pay for the security. We all have to get badges, those all cost money.”
Krisologo manages the Airport Jobs Center. She helps businesses here find workers.
Today her job just got a little more complicated.
Krisologo: “For example, one employer that we work with closely would like to pay more – but their home office is saying that it won’t work with their budget. So there’s a lot of disconnect with understanding what’s happening here in this local area.”
The Port of Seattle and Alaska Airlines had wanted to raise wages less over a longer period of time. They say they’re still digesting the decision, deciding what to do next.