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Originally published January 7, 2014 at 7:14 PM | Page modified January 7, 2014 at 9:32 PM

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Port of Seattle says it will act by June on airport-wages issue

The Port of Seattle Commission will work toward raising wages at Sea-Tac International Airport after a judge’s ruling that SeaTac’s Proposition 1 cannot be enforced there.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Port of Seattle Commission will work toward raising wages at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after a judge’s ruling that SeaTac’s Prop. 1 cannot be enforced there.

“This is a top priority for the Port commission in 2014,” said commission Co-President Stephanie Bowman.

Also on Tuesday, the five-member Port Commission elected its two newest members — Bowman and Courtney Gregoire — as co-presidents. And Port CEO Tay Yoshitani formally announced what was already expected: He will retire when his contract expires in June. The Port will conduct a national search for his replacement.

The commission made no specific promises about the 4,700 workers at the airport, saying it will act by June after public hearings. That’s slower than union activists and the city of SeaTac would like.

Voters in the city of SeaTac narrowly approved a proposition this fall to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour for transportation and hospitality workers. But a judge ruled only the Port has jurisdiction over the airport.

In response, the city of SeaTac wrote a letter asking the Port to apply the proposition at Sea-Tac.

The Port and Sea-Tac were defendants in the lawsuit filed by Alaska Airlines, the Washington Restaurant Association and other opponents of the higher minimum wage. The Port was compelled to defend its jurisdiction at the airport, and now says it has to dig into the legal issues surrounding wages at the airport, including whose wages it can control.

Still, statements Tuesday in support of better airport wages and conditions are the first time the politicians who oversee the Port of Seattle have addressed publicly their feelings about Proposition 1, which took effect Jan. 1.

A $15 minimum wage is the year’s hottest local political topic. The decision to join the discussion goes along with a new Port commission that is bent on being more aggressively involved in regional issues.

Wages and worker conditions at Sea-Tac airport have been a mounting issue as workers there have struggled to unionize and finally sought the ballot measure as a way around federal rules that made union organization difficult.

Airport workers should not have to turn to food stamps to survive, Gregoire said Tuesday, citing “the commission’s values.” And, she said, workers should have a clear path to advancement.

“Regardless of the outcome, we wanted to devote time to this very important issue,” she said.

Union members and airport workers rallied at the Port’s headquarters Tuesday at Pier 69, then testified that June was not soon enough.

“We are calling on the Port of Seattle to stop blocking the will of the voters and wasting the public’s money on lawyers,” said Mohammad Kadhim, who makes $9.50 an hour working for an airport contractor.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or On Twitter: @EmilyHeffter

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