Oct. 27--SEATAC -- Clipboard in hand, union activist Abdirahman "Abdi" Abdullahi walks from apartment to apartment urging SeaTac's large immigrant communities to vote yes on Proposition 1.
Abdullahi, an affable Somali refugee who speaks three languages and lives in SeaTac with his wife and two young children, was hired by the pro-Prop. 1 campaign to make the case for a $15-an-hour "living wage." He is on leave from Hertz, where he earns $11.20 an hour and gets no paid sick time.
"I want to help everyone at the airport," said Abdullahi, 32, now a U.S. citizen. "It's a hard life."
SeaTac is the latest battleground in a national debate over the plight of low-wage workers and government's role in boosting labor standards. With possible reverberations nationwide, the campaign has attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars from powerful business groups and unions.
The Nov. 5 ballot initiative would raise the wage floor to $15 an hour for thousands of hospitality and transportation workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and its nearby hotels, car-rental agencies and parking lots.
Prop. 1 also would require airport-related businesses to provide paid sick leave, offer part-time workers more hours before hiring additional part-timers and retain employees for at least three months after an ownership change.
Abdullahi's counterpart on the other side of the Prop. 1 campaign is Jac Cates, an athletic, ruddy-faced extrovert who roams SeaTac's more affluent neighborhoods of single-family homes with an iPad Mini and a mobile-canvassing app called Ground Game.
"The people who own the homes are decidedly against it," said Cates, 45, who was hired by a consulting firm for Common Sense SeaTac, a business-backed political committee opposed to Prop. 1. "They understand that the administrative costs of having to enforce it will fall on property owners."
Prop. 1 comes as President Obama calls for rebuilding middle-class jobs, and fast-food workers try to get major chains like McDonald's to pay a $15 hourly minimum rate.
Proponents of the SeaTac measure say it would lift low-wage workers out of poverty, give them more money to spend at local businesses and strengthen the economy. Opponents say it would force businesses to raise prices or cut staff, and would leave taxpayers footing the bill for enforcement costs.
Both sides have inundated SeaTac, a city of only 10 square miles, with door-to-door canvassers, phone calls, cable TV ads, yard signs and direct-mail fliers.
"Voters in SeaTac know this is an important decision," said Gary Smith, spokesman for Common Sense SeaTac. "They feel a little like they're in Iowa or New Hampshire during the presidential primaries."
Supporters and opponents of Prop. 1 have spent a combined $1.1?million in a city of only 12,100 registered voters. That's a whopping $94 per voter, and the battle is far from over.
By comparison, said Western Washington University political-science professor Todd Donovan, an expert on ballot measures, the 2011 initiative to privatize Washington state's liquor sales cost both sides a then-record $17 for each vote cast.
Based on a projected voter turnout of 55 percent in King County, if both sides of Prop. 1 spend all their money, the campaign could end up costing a combined $238 per vote.
Common Sense SeaTac has raised $644,698, according to reports filed by Friday with the Public Disclosure Commission.
Alaska Airlines, based in SeaTac, gave about $160,000. Other contributors include state and national trade groups representing car-rental agencies, hotels and restaurants.
Supporters of Prop. 1, organized as Yes! for SeaTac, have raised $941,065 in cash and in-kind contributions.
Washington's minimum wage, at $9.19 an hour, is already the highest of any state and will rise to $9.32 on Jan. 1 after an inflation adjustment.
Union leaders say a proliferation of low-paying jobs over the past decade has put hourly wages in the national spotlight.
SeaTac Proposition 1 calls for a $15-an-hour 'living wage' for hospitality and transportation workers in and around Sea-Tac International Airport.
'SeaTac has just volunteered to conduct an economic experiment on itself.'
About 6,300 employees at an estimated 70 businesses will be affected by today's vote.