The community of SeaTac, Washington, home to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, this year became the first in the nation to approve a $15 minimum wage law.
It’s been more than eight months since the policy took effect, and Dana Milbank highlighted the results over the weekend.
As fast-food workers demonstrate nationwide for a $15 hourly wage, and congressional Republicans fight off a $10 federal minimum, little SeaTac has something to offer the debate. Its neighbor, Seattle, was the first big city to approve a $15 wage, this spring, but that doesn’t start phasing in until next year. SeaTac did it all at once. And, though there’s nothing definitive, this much is clear: The sky did not fall.“SeaTac is proving trickle-down economics wrong,” says David Rolf, the Service Employees International Union official who helped lead the $15 effort in SeaTac and Seattle, “because when workers prosper, so do communities and businesses.”
In fairness, SeaTac is a small community and the number of affected workers is quite modest, making this a difficult test case. Still, as Milbank’s piece noted, the owner of a SeaTac hotel, who had strongly opposed the minimum-wage increase during the 2013 debate, said the hike would invariably lead to local layoffs and eliminated jobs.
That was last year. This year, with the $15 minimum wage in effect, the hotel is moving forward with a multi-million dollar expansion anyway.
And what of Seattle, which will soon have easily the highest minimum wage of any major U.S. city?
Milbank’s column added these valuable insights.
In Seattle last week, I stopped in at the jammed Palace Kitchen, flagship of Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas, who runs upward of 15 establishments. He warned in April that the $15 wage could “be the most serious threat to our ability to compete,” and he predicted that “we would lose maybe a quarter of the restaurants in town.” Yet Douglas has opened, or announced, five new restaurants this year.Likewise, the International Franchise Association has sued to block implementation of the law, arguing that nobody “in their right mind” would become a franchisee in Seattle. Yet Togo’s sandwiches, a franchise chain, is expanding into Seattle, saying the $15 wage isn’t a deterrent.And a spokesman for Weyerhaeuser, the venerable wood and paper company, says the $15 wage didn’t factor into its decision, announced last month, to move its headquarters and 800 employees to Seattle from outside Tacoma.
It’s against this backdrop that the political debate continues to unfold. The White House made a minimum-wage increase the subject of its official weekly address over the weekend, and just last week, two Republican opponents of a wage hike – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate hopeful Rep. Tom Cotton – both started hedging on whether an increase is a good idea.