One of the warnings we keep hearing from the serious people who know better than common folks like us, is that SeaTac's $15 an hour minimum wage initiative would have unintended consequences, driving some small businesses out of business, and costing some low-wage workers their jobs. Maybe. Most policies have winners and losers.
But you know what else is an unintended consequence? The $15 minimum wage initiative!
For years, underpaid airport workers—outsourced from their living wage jobs and then rehired back by contractors at minimum wage with few benefits—have been protesting their working conditions without a drop of empathy being shown by our business and media elite. These workers demonstrated and marched, trying to apply pressure to profitable Alaska Airlines, and our editorialists looked the other way. They pleaded for help from the Port of Seattle and other elected bodies, and our elected officials told them there was nothing they could do. They tried to organize labor unions, but the airlines' contracting scheme was devised in such a way as to make organizing virtually impossible.
And so these low-wage workers, struggling to raise their families in dignity while performing crucial jobs like fueling and cleaning airliners, decided to go directly to the people. That's what this initiative and the entire $15 an hour minimum wage movement is born out of: The refusal of the serious people to take the suffering of working people seriously.
Yes, initiatives are an imperfect tool for writing and passing complex law. And yes, wage floors can have unintended consequences (although the empirical evidence suggests that the social and economic benefits far outweigh the costs). But with the powers that be turning a collective blind eye, what else are these workers supposed to do?
So the editorialists can fret all they want about the impact this initiative might have on the downtrodden owners of capital, some of whom "used to be poor," the Seattle Times' Sharon Pian Chan cries out in anguish. (In fact, the Quality Inn SeaTac she highlights, with fewer than 30 non-managerial employees, appears to be exempt from the initiative—not that she's ever let facts get in her way.) But if this is a crisis, this is a crisis of their own making.
The $15 an hour minimum wage movement is the unintended consequence of decades of exploitation and disrespect. And if this is the only consequence our business establishment ends up paying, I'd say they got off easy.