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A SeaTac ballot measure to create a $15-an-hour minimum wage for airport-related workers took a narrow lead in initial results Tuesday.

With about 3,283 votes counted, SeaTac Proposition 1 led 54 percent to 46 percent — a difference of only 261 votes in a city with 12,000 registered voters.

At a campaign event in SeaTac, supporters were optimistic that uncounted votes would go their way.

“This means that the people who put fuel in jets may actually be able to buy a ticket on one,” said David Rolf, a vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

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But Proposition 1 opponents said the race was too close to call Tuesday.

Washington’s mail-in voting system means ballots will continue to arrive after Election Day, and the outcome might not be known until Friday, said Scott Ostrander, general manager of Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac.

“It’s a really small margin,” said Ostrander, co-chair of a business-backed political committee opposed to Proposition 1. “We’re estimating there’s probably 6,500 to 6,800 ballots out there, and we’ve only probably seen about 50 percent.”

Proposition 1 would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for hospitality and transportation workers in and around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. That rate represents a 63 percent increase from Washington’s current minimum wage of $9.19, which will rise on Jan. 1 to $9.32, the highest of any state.

Proposition 1 also calls for annual increases tied to inflation, paid sick leave and tip protection. It would require employers to offer part-time workers more hours before hiring additional part-timers, and to keep employees for at least three months after an ownership change.

Supporters of Proposition 1 say it would lift minimum-wage workers out of poverty, give them more money to spend at local businesses and boost the economy. Opponents say it would force businesses to raise prices and cut staff, and would leave taxpayers footing the bill for enforcement costs.

The ballot measure would take effect Jan. 1, covering roughly 6,300 workers at 72 airport-related businesses in SeaTac, including hotels, car-rental companies and parking lots.

Taken together, the campaigns for and against the measure raised $2.1 million — about $170 per registered voter in SeaTac.

Proposition 1 is part of a broader national debate about income inequality and government’s role in improving worker wages at a time when many new jobs are low-paying and part-time.

It also reflects a desire by organized labor to reinvent itself and reverse a decades-long decline in union membership: Proposition 1 is supported by labor groups, and includes a waiver for employers with union contracts.

While Proposition 1 vote-counting could take some time, the minimum-wage debate appears headed for Seattle. Mayoral candidate Ed Murray, who held a strong lead in initial returns Tuesday, said he supports raising the city’s wage floor to $15 an hour.

“Voters are tired of waiting for CEOs or Congress to do the right thing for workers,” said SEIU’s Rolf. “Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen a 725 percent increase in CEO pay, and 80 percent of all economic growth has gone to the top 1 percent.

“It’s time to take matters into our own hands,” he said.

Seattle Times business reporter Coral Garnick contributed to this story.

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