Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant was one of four people arrested Wednesday evening for failing to disperse during a protest outside Alaska Airlines headquarters calling for a $15 minimum wage for airport workers.
The arrests were the culmination of a protest organized by Working Washington, an organization that has been pushing for a higher minimum wage. About 100 Seattle-Tacoma International Airport workers and supporters gathered near Alaska Airlines headquarters, then walked across International Boulevard and chanted in front of the building.
A SeaTac referendum, known as Proposition 1, which took effect earlier this year, raised the minimum wage in that city to $15 an hour. However, a judge handling a lawsuit filed last year by Proposition 1 opponents, including Alaska Airlines, ruled that it did not apply to airport workers because the municipal ordinance could not be enforced at the airport, which is operated by the Port of Seattle.
Port of Seattle Commissioners voted in July to raise the minimum wage for Port workers who require security badges to $11.22 an hour in January and $13 by 2017. Last week, Airlines for America, a trade organization composed of major airlines, sued the Port in federal court, saying the new minimum wagewas forcing airlines to comply with requirements that conflict with labor agreements. Raises already given to 1,000 vendor employees before the Port vote will remain in place regardless of the ruling, Alaska Airlines said.
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The workers decided to protest after hearing about the lawsuit. The protest comes “after a year of mounting community frustration” with Alaska Airlines, which is the most prominent airline at Sea-Tac, according to Working Washington spokesman Sage Wilson.
Before the protest started, Sawant said it was her “obligation as a public servant” to exercise civil disobedience and risk arrest.
“This is how you show political leadership,” she said.
The four protesters — Sawant, a cargo handler, a former airport worker and a church pastor — stood in the middle of International Boulevard as SeaTac police officers announced that anyone not on the sidewalk would be arrested. The four were booked into the South Correctional Entity Regional Jail in Des Moines shortly after 5:30 p.m. and remained there for at least three hours.
Socrates Bravo, 25, who works as a ramp agent unloading cargo for a company that contracts with Alaska Airlines, said many of his co-workers have to work extra hours and more than one job because they don’t make enough money.
“We have to work a lot of overtime just to make ends meet,” said Bravo, who was arrested alongside Sawant.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Alaska Airlines said it supports fair-wage jobs and that it stands with Airlines for America.
“Alaska stands with the entire airline industry as Airlines for America (A4A), the industry’s trade group, challenges the legality of the Port wage mandate,” the statement said. “The challenge focuses on the Port enacting policies in an area governed by federal and state laws and regulations. Alaska’s pay increases will remain in place regardless of the outcome of this litigation.”
Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or firstname.lastname@example.org