Seattle Suburb Passes Highest Minimum Wage in Country

  November 6, 2013

Seattle Suburb Passes Highest Minimum Wage in Country

David Rolf of SEIU helped organize SeaTac's Proposition 1 to provide $15/hour to hotel, restaurant, and airport workers.
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Known nationally as an innovative labor leader, David Rolf is the President of SEIU Healthcare 775NW, the fastest growing union the Northwest representing 43,000 home care and nursing home workers in Washington state and Montana. He also serves as an International Vice President of the Service Employees International Union, the international organization which represents more than 2.1 million workers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. 

Rolf, 43, has led some of the largest organizing efforts since the 1930s. He helped organize 75,000 care givers in Los Angles and started the homecare union in Washington. Rolf also helped to create the SEIU NW Healthcare Training Partnership and Health Benefits Trust.

He helped to spearhead inclusion of the State Balancing Incentive Program (BIPP) into the 2010 Affordable Care Act. BIPP incentivizes states to establish long-term care systems. 

In addition to his responsibilities with SEIU, Rolf also sits on other boards and steering committees for governmental advisory bodies, political action committees and non-profit organizations.


Seattle Suburb Passes Highest Minimum Wage in CountryJESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On November 5, voters from the Seattle suburb of SeaTac passed Proposition 1, which calls for a $15 an hour minimum wage for airport, hotel, and restaurant workers. That is the highest minimum wage in the US.

Joining us now is David Rolf. David is the SEIU international vice president and organized support for the passage of Proposition 1.

Thanks for joining us, David.


DESVARIEUX: So, David, can you just give us sort of the back story? How did this come to be? How were you guys able to organize getting such a high minimum wage in SeaTac?

ROLF: Well, let's talk about the SeaTac economy for a second. These airport jobs, like baggage handlers, ramp workers, jet fuelers, concessionaires, these are jobs that paid $16, $18 an hour back in the 1970s and the 1980s. They used to be living-wage jobs. Even our local congressman Adam Smith recalls growing up in the home--his father was a baggage handler and was able to support a family and buy a home on a baggage handler's salary.

That's all changed. The major airlines outsourced those jobs and turned them into minimum-wage jobs, which impoverished a whole community. So SeaTac saw its grocery store become a Goodwill and its video store become a pawnshop because the impoverishment of those jobs hurt the whole community.

So when voters had a chance to qualify a ballot initiative and raise wages back up a little closer to where they were 20 or 30 years ago. Ultimately they said yes, and they gathered enough signatures to qualify Proposition 1 for the ballot. And then in the early returns they seemed to be passing Proposition 1 by about an eight-point margin. It was really their opportunity to say to CEOs and to Congress that they're impatient with waiting for them to do the right thing for American workers and it's time we took matters into our own hands.

DESVARIEUX: Now, let's get a sense of the impact of this vote. How many workers will actually be affected?

ROLF: There are about 6,000 workers, a little more than 6,000 workers who work at the airport and airport-related businesses like rental car companies, parking lots, and at the hospitality zone adjacent to the airport with the major hotels, but about 6,000 who work for about 70 different businesses.

DESVARIEUX: And do you think this vote in SeaTac will sort of increase the momentum elsewhere?

ROLF: Well, for sure it will. Ultimately what votes like this are about is whether the entire economy thrives and prospers or only the richest 1 percent. When you look at what's happened over the last 30 years, CEO pay has gone up 725 percent in this country. Eighty percent of all the economic gains have gone to the top 1 percent of income earners. And the bottom 90 percent has seen wages stagnate and real spending power decline vis-à-vis inflation.

So kind of mass impoverishment of wage work that we've seen all around the country, it I think is going to create many more situations that are ripe for this kind of campaign, where voters are going to lose patience with CEOs, bankers, Wall Street, and politicians and say it's time that we do this ourselves. I would expect that this may have been the first nationally significant campaign like this, but I really doubt it's going to be the last.

DESVARIEUX: Well, David, congratulations on your victory and thank you for joining us.

ROLF: Alright.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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