On Nov 30th, SEIU6 celebrated the 10th anniversary of our historic Fight for $15 victory. Our union became the first in the nation to win and raise the minimum wage to $15 back in 2013. This seemingly impossible feat was made possible by the resilient determination of SeaTac Airport workers, most of whom are immigrants and people of color. These SEIU6 members were at the heart of a multiracial coalition of workers, faith leaders, labor unions, elected leaders, community advocates, and residents of SeaTac who listened to what immigrant workers said they needed, and united to get it done.
In honor of this achievement, SEIU6 held an event at SeaTac airport to unveil our short documentary, First to $15, which recounts the events leading up to the win, featuring testimonials from SeaTac workers and SEIU6 organizers present during this historic campaign.
“In 2013, SeaTac Airport workers faced many challenges, such as workload issues and low wages,” said Eshete, an airport worker who has worked at SeaTac for over 10 years. The biggest hurdle in raising the minimum wage at the airport was that a lot of the jobs were contract jobs. So, for workers like bag handlers and cabin cleaners to get wage increases, the money had to come from the airlines that contracted those companies. However, “the airlines were unwilling to budge despite making record profits during that time,” said Eshete. So the coalition organized to ensure the SeaTac Proposition 1initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15, was put on the ballot.
“Airport workers, union organizers from SEIU6, and other unions got to door knocking and organized to get out the vote,” said Saba, Belachew, a former SeaTac Airport worker for 13 years and SEIU6 executive board member. Saba remembered watching the votes getting counted and screaming with happiness when the working people won.
However, the airlines, the Port of Seattle, and the restaurant association opposed the win and took it to the WA State Supreme Court. This legal battle lasted for 2 years. The judge, however, ruled in favor of the workers and upheld the win. SEIU6 continued to hold the airlines accountable and ensured that workers received thousands in back pay, which changed their lives as they could afford to purchase houses, visit their home countries, and provide for their families with just one job.
In a Q&A at the event, SEIU6 president Zenia Javalera and Saba Belachew and shared that the biggest lesson we learn from the Fight for $15 is the need for worker solidarity. The win was only possible because workers organized their communities. It was possible because political allies used their power in support of the workers. The win was possible because of first-time immigrant voters registered during door-knocking and organizing. As a result, the Fight for $15 movement shaped the leadership of the City of SeaTac as we see it today, which reflects the people who live there.
As we continue to fight for healthcare for all airport workers, we commit to having the same level of dedication. We all have a part to play, whether it’s sharing our stories and experiences, attending rallies, or calling our political leaders. So let’s get ready to fight because when we fight, we win!