Seattle Maximizes The Minimum

Certainly not everyone in the ground service provider industry earns the minimum wage. But time and again we often hear the lament – heard more than once most recently during sessions held at the IATA International Ground Handling Conference in Malaysia – that the backbone of the industry is comprised of ramp agents “who make the least, where turnover is the highest and who day after day drive equipment in close proximity to multimillion-dollar aircraft.”

With that in mind, we couldn’t help but notice the news that Seattle announced a business-labor deal to progressively raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Interesting, since you may recall that the tiny Seattle suburb of Seatac, home turf to Seatac Airport, voted an increase in pay last November to a minimum of $15 for, in part, airport workers.



Even more interesting is that hand-in-hand with the Seattle news came the announcement by Alaska Airlines that it would pay its contract cabin cleaners, baggage handlers and refuelers at Seatac Airport a minimum of $12. For some entry-level workers, the increase amounted to a 28 percent increase.

Finally, yet still more interesting is the fact that the airliner will reimburse its vendors, such as ASIG, Menzies and Delta Global Services, for their additional labor costs.

Seatac-based Alaska said it decided to give its vendors’ employees a pay raise after reviewing local wages and determining that the higher rates would more accurately reflect the local market.

As with an editorial we wrote earlier on the subject of the minimum wage, we won’t debate the merits of raising the minimum wage here.

However, we will point out that the recent news does portend that we will see more and more of this at the grassroots level.



Take a closer look, for example, at the Seattle news. The mayor appointed a committee of citizens to develop the proposal for $15. Eric Liu was one of those citizens. He wrote recently on The Atlantic’s dot-com site that members included business owners and union chiefs who negotiated the deal.

“The deal is nobody’s picture of perfect,” he writes. “It’s a compromise.”

But step back and it’s easy to see that this is a big deal.

“It’s not just the $15 figure … ,” Liu states. “It’s the fact that a broad coalition with significant business support made it happen.”

Call it what Liu does: networked localism. Whatever the name, the news is Seattle highlights a shift is the politics that has ground so much national action from Washington, D.C. ,to a halt.

“The last century rewarded political leaders like LBJ who knew how to centralize the local into the national,” Liu concludes. “This century may belong to those who can decentralize the national – but into a new kind of national. Call it the United Cities of America.”