It’s not $15, but Alaska Airlines wants you to know its contract cabin cleaners, baggage handlers and aircraft fuelers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport now make $12 an hour.
Alaska, long a target of labor activists calling for a $15 minimum wage at Sea-Tac Airport, said Friday it has negotiated a pay raise of up to 28 percent for entry-level employees who work for its local vendor partners.
As of April, starting pay for about 800 behind-the-scenes workers at subcontractors serving Alaska flights at Sea-Tac increased between 68 cents and $2.68 to a new hourly rate of $12, the company said.
Starting pay for some 215 curbside check-in and wheelchair attendants, who receive at least $2 an hour in tips, rose to $10 from the state-mandated minimum of $9.32, said Jeff Butler, vice president of airport operations and customer service at Alaska.
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The airline is reimbursing the vendors for their additional labor costs, he said.
The announcement comes a day after Seattle Mayor Ed Murray outlined a proposal to set a new $15 minimum wage citywide for large employers starting in 2017, followed by smaller employers two to four years later.
In the city of SeaTac, meanwhile, Alaska continues to lead a legal battle against a voter-approved initiative that created a $15 minimum for hospitality and transportation workers.
A King County judge ruled late last year that SeaTac Proposition 1 could not be enforced at the airport, but is legally binding at nearby hotels and parking lots. The state Supreme Court is set to hear the case next month.
SeaTac-based Alaska said it decided to give its vendor employees a pay raise after reviewing wages in Seattle and South King County and determining that the $10 and $12 rates would “more accurately” reflect the local market.
“Clearly, our actions today show we’re not opposed to raising wages. We just wanted to be thoughtful about it and have a fact-based approach to entry-level wages,” Butler said. “We believe $12 an hour is a great rate at the moment and is among the highest for vendor employees at Sea-Tac Airport.”
Last October, Alaska and Menzies Aviation raised starting wages for baggage handlers to $10.88 an hour from $9.50. Now, Menzies as well as Delta Global Services and Aircraft Service International Group will start pay at $12.
“They’re trying to get out ahead of bad PR, a unionization effort and a state Supreme Court ruling next month,” Heather Weiner, spokeswoman for pro-Proposition 1 group Yes! for SeaTac, said of Alaska’s announcement.
“It’s insulting, because the voters have spoken and Alaska Airlines made enormous profits last quarter,” she said. “They’re throwing a little bit of money at a problem, and they’re hoping it’s going to go away.”
Weiner noted that wheelchair attendants serving Alaska flights for vendor Bags Inc. have voted to unionize and are awaiting a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.
Organized labor and Alaska have been doing battle since 2005, when the airline outsourced ramp work done by the Machinists union to Menzies. At the time, Alaska employees who lost their jobs earned an average of $13.41 an hour.
Labor activists and business groups led by Alaska spent a combined $2.2 million last year in an election campaign that’s believed to be Washington’s most expensive ever on a per-voter basis. The Nov. 5 ballot measure passed by only 77 votes out of about 6,000 cast.
Proposition 1 currently covers an estimated 1,600 workers at large hotels, parking lots and other airport-related businesses in SeaTac. About 4,700 workers at the airport also were expected to be covered by the municipal ordinance.
But King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvis ruled that it interferes with the Port of Seattle’s exclusive jurisdiction over the airport and can’t be enforced there. Labor activists appealed to the state Supreme Court.
In addition to a $15 minimum wage, Proposition 1 requires affected employers 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.
The Port of Seattle did not take a stance on the measure during the campaign, but now agrees with opponents that Proposition 1 conflicts with state law and is unenforceable at the airport. The Port Commission also has announced its intention to create a jobs-quality policy, promising to raise wages and provide career-development opportunities for airport workers.
Port Commission co-President Courtney Gregoire called Alaska’s pay raise an “important step to increase wages of their contract employees. We, however, remain committed to raising the job quality standards for workers throughout the airport,” she said in a statement.
Alaska Air last week said its first-quarter profit more than doubled to $94 million from $37 million a year earlier as revenue rose 8 percent to $1.22 billion.
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or email@example.com On Twitter: @amyemartinez