Minimum pay: minimum lip service
When is the minimum wage not the minimum wage? When you work at Sea-Tac, it would seem.
After all the media hype back in 2013, when Sea-Tac proudly blazed a trail that others simply had to follow, its minimum wage policies would appear to be less than concrete. The magical hourly rate of US$15, long sought after and immediately (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) contested by local carriers, raised the airport worker’s standards overnight. Yet five years on, some workers are taking home a few cents less than this figure – whilst other, new contracts, are pitched considerably below this figure.
The devil here lies not in the small print but in the unions – and the airlines. When Alaska terminated Menzies’ contract at Seattle, it took ground handling in-house, forming McGee, with a view to saving money. And because this group was unionised, city ordinances allow it to set its own wage levels, effectively waiving the status quo. Thus ex-Menzies workers (previously on US$15 an hour) who are now with McGee, actually earn less. Likewise, because of the Railway Labour Act, a city is not able to regulate wage levels across multiple sites – so any fresh airline employees are starting on a wage several dollars below that living wage. Both these exemptions are completely legal, leaving the minimum wage concept something of a misnomer.
Interesting to note, both McGee and Alaska Airlines point to better perks and benefits as critical in making up the differential.