SEATAC, Wash. - Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant was arrested in the Alaska Air protest Wednesday night near Sea-Tac Airport.
At this point, it doesn't look like there will be any consequences at City Hall following her arrest.
The protest involved members of 15 Now, Working Washington, and Sea-Tac airport workers. Many of the same participants worked on pushing for a $15 minimum wage in Seattle and the city of SeaTac, where Sawant was arrested. Two men and two women were arrested, including Sawant.
"This is about political leadership. All the best activists in the past -- and in the present -- have put their lives on the line to fight for the rights of workers," Sawant told KIRO 7.
In June, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to raise the minimum wage to $15, giving businesses with more than 500 employees at least three years to hit the $15 mark. Click here to see the varying timelines for the Seattle minimum wage.
Wednesday’s protest was sparked by challenging the Port of Seattle’s authority to regulate airlines.
While many major airlines are plaintiffs in the suit, Sawant told KIRO 7 protestors chose to gather outside Alaska Airlines headquarters because they are the most visible in the area.
Sawant spent about five hours in SCORE Jail Wednesday evening, before making her $500 bail. Equal pay organization Working Washington eventually covered the cost of her bail, along with that of the other three people arrested.
Upon exiting the jail, Sawant told KIRO 7 it should be the airline executives behind bars, not the activists.
Earlier during her arrest, Sawant said, “When workers are showing such enormous courage to fight for not only themselves but other workers – they’re fighting for everybody – then my duty as an elected public servant is to be right there with them. This is about showing political leadership.”
A ramp agent working at Sea-Tac airport named Socrates Bravo was also among those arrested. Bravo said he makes $12 an hour.
He told KIRO 7, “Alaska Airlines makes millions of dollars in profit, and they can’t even treat their workers and subcontractors with a living wage.”
After the protest, KIRO 7 spoke to Joe Sprague, the senior vice president of external affairs at Alaska Airlines.
Sprague said the lawsuit in question does not actually concern wages. Rather, it focuses on the whether the Port of Seattle has the authority to regulate airlines in how much they pay workers, what employment requirements they set, and what training is required. He also emphasized that the current Port of Seattle wage requirement is actually lower than Alaska’s lowest offered wage for non-tipped workers.
When asked whether Alaska Airlines would have any problem raising the wage to $15 an hour, Sprague said, “we raised the wages up to $12 an hour, and we think that’s the right spot for our airport workers at this time.”
Sprague added that earlier this year, the company invested more than a million dollars into a program to help entry-level employees attend college courses.
Even as Sprague directed the focus of the lawsuit away from the question of $15 an hour, protesters pointed to other legal challenges to the higher minimum wage.
“Did you hear about Alaska Airlines' latest attempt to block thousands of airport workers from getting higher wages?” a Wednesday message to 15 Now supporters read. “Their big national airline lobby group has filed a Federal lawsuit, claiming that the Port of Seattle doesn't have the power to set minimum wages at the airport.
“That might sound familiar, because last year Alaska sued in state court, claiming SeaTac voters don't have the power to raise wages either. And all this after they spent big bucks trying to keep SeaTac Proposition 1 off the ballot, and then campaigning unsuccessfully to vote $15 down.”
Sawant has been an outspoken supporter of the $15 Now movement, and last year became the first socialist elected to the Seattle City Council.