SEATAC, WA It appears the ayes have it. After weeks of careful ballot counting, officials in Washington state on Tuesday certified the results in a potentially historic vote that will create far and away the highest minimum wage in America.
Squeaking by with a mere 77-vote margin, the ballot measure known as Proposition 1 will set a $15 wage floor for an estimated 6,000 airport and hotel workers in SeaTac, Wash., a suburb of 27,000 residents south of Seattle.
While the vote count had been too close to call in the days following the Nov. 5 election, the King County Elections commission posted the official results on its website late Tuesday: 3,040 in favor of the measure, 2,963 against. There were 12,108 registered voters eligible to cast ballots.
Although the results have been certified, they can still be challenged by anyone willing to foot the bill for a recount, according to Kim van Ekstrom, spokeswoman for the elections commission. Van Ekstrom said ballot signatures had continued to trickle in during the days leading up to certification, but no more ballots would be counted.
The ballot campaign was closely watched — and funded, to the tune of about $2 million — by business and labor groups, who viewed it as a potential bellwether vote on similar wage measures throughout the country. The $15 wage floor in SeaTac will be more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, and it will likely serve as a rallying cry for labor unions and low-wage worker advocates as they try to raise minimum wages on the federal, state and local levels.
Given the money originally dumped into the campaign by the business community, backers of the measure shouldn’t be surprised if opponents file for a recount. An umbrella group that lobbied against Proposition 1, called Common Sense SeaTac, told NBC News Tuesday it would challenge the results. Van Ekstrom said challengers would need to put down a deposit of 25 cents per ballot for a hand recount, or 15 cents for a machine recount. That’s a small sum for a business advocacy group, though van Ekstrom said the final price tag of the recount would be much higher.
Along with setting the $15 minimum wage, the new SeaTac law will also tie the minimum wage to an inflation index; guarantee that tipped workers don’t have to share their gratuities; and allow workers to accrue up to 6.5 days of guaranteed paid sick leave per year. Smaller businesses were carved out of the legislation, and the law would only apply to certain employers in and around Seattle–Tacoma International Airport.
The ballot measure’s provisional success is an unmitigated victory for labor groups, particularly the Service Employees International Union, which played a lead role in pushing Proposition 1. Not only does the legislation include the kind of employer mandates championed by organized labor, it also allows for those mandates to be waived in a collective bargaining contract, possibly giving companies an incentive to enter into one.
As in almost any minimum wage fight, backers of the proposal said it would improve the lives of thousands of low-wage workers, while the business community said it would raise costs on employers and force them to cut back on hiring.
Abdirahman Abdullahi, an employee of the airport’s Hertz rental car location, told HuffPost earlier this month that he took a leave of absence from his job to campaign in support of the measure. “The workers at the airport work hard but don’t get what they deserve,” Abdullahi said. “They’re juggling two or three jobs just to pay the bills, let alone to save money. This initiative … it’s going to improve their lives.”
Backers of the proposition had declared victory on election night, but their edge gradually eroded as more ballots were counted in the days that followed. At one point, their lead had dwindled to just 19 votes.