SEATAC, Wash. - On Election Day, people knocked door to door, trying to secure last-minute votes for and against a SeaTac proposition that would create the highest minimum wage of any city in the U.S.
Contributions to support the $15 per hour minimum wage were much higher than those for opponents. But altogether, fundraising amounted to $170 per voter, in a city with only 12,108 registered voters.
Saba Belachew, an airport employee working two jobs to make ends meet, spoke to people from Ethiopia in their native language.
When Belachew knocked on some doors, no one answered.
“He’s doing two jobs. I know him,” she said.
Right now, many airport jobs pay the Washington state minimum wage, just above $9 an hour.
Explaining that many workers are from foreign countries, she said, “They have children, they have family back home, some of them have a mortgage.”
On the other side of the issue, Common Sense SeaTac also had people knocking on doors. They targeted homes where voters had not appeared to have turned in their ballots yet.
Jessica Mackley, a SeaTac resident, said, “It’s targeting only certain kinds of industries. You could go over to the next town and work the same type of job for a lower wage. So how is that fair?”
The proposition would apply to airport workers and those in the hotel industry. Small businesses are exempt, like Mike’s Community Cup.
Still, Mike Condon, who owns the coffee shop, is concerned that the cost of enforcing this $15 minimum wage would become the responsibility of tax payers and business owners.
He said he would also have to consider raising the wages he pays workers, to stay competitive.
“I knew this initiative could cause a lot more problems. So all I have to do is give them a three-month notice, and I can walk away from this business. That would be something that I would look at doing. Yes,” Condon said.
Not all business owners are against the proposition. Donald Liberty, who has owned Bull Pen Pub for more than 30 years, said he already pays his employees more than $15 per hour.
“Paid people out in the workplace deserve a good wage…one that they can take a paycheck home and support their family,” Liberty said.
But SeaTac voters are not the only ones watching this close race.
Seattle leaders are watching the results to determine their next move.
“I think it’s going to be more of a national movement than people expect. It’s not just SeaTac or Seattle,” said Nick Licata, Seattle city councilmember.