On December 3rd, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and three minimum wage activists were charged with disorderly conduct in the wake of their November 19th arrest for protesting Alaska Airlines’ efforts to avoid paying its Seattle-Tacoma International Airport workers a $15/hour minimum wage.
Sawant responded to the news saying, “Why do workers face charges when they peacefully campaign for their rights, while corporate criminals go free? Charges should be brought against the Alaska Airlines executives who are refusing to follow the voter approved minimum wage law. Our justice system is broken.”
Alaska Airlines, along with several other corporations, has been fighting against the $15/hour minimum wage law in Sea-Tac ever since it was passed in November of 2013. First, Alaska filed and won a lawsuit saying only the Port of Seattle could raise wages, not the City of SeaTac, thus depriving all airport workers of $15/hour. Then, months later when the Port itself introduced a wage increase, Alaska Airlines spearheaded a federal lawsuit asserting the Port does not have jurisdiction either.
In the meantime, hundreds of airport workers and their families struggle to make ends meet on poverty wages. Those who protest for a living wage are arrested and charged, showing how heavily the criminal justice system tilts against ordinary people in favor of the 1%. An estimated two thirds of low wage workers experience wage theft, yet no business owner ever sees the inside of a jail cell for it. The CEOs of major banks and corporations commit massive fraud, ruin the global economy, and destroy the lives of millions without the slightest chance of being prosecuted.
The victories on the $15/hour minimum wage in SeaTac and Seattle have only been won through an organized movement of trade unions, social justice activists, and the 15 Now campaign. While working people can win such victories, the ongoing struggle in SeaTac and the charges against Kshama Sawant and other minimum wage activists make it clear that big businesses will use any tool at their disposal to claw back our hard fought gains and prevent future wins. The recent firing of Delta baggage handler and leading 15 Now activist Kip Hedges for publicly supporting a $15/hour minimum wage also shows this.
Working people and 15 Now activists must respond by building a stronger movement and expanding the Fight for 15 to every city in the country. In the face of attacks from big business, we need solidarity and struggle. Sawant appears ready to do just that, declaring, “As long as their movement continues, I will stand with workers in Sea-Tac.”