Recount in store for $15 minimum wage measure

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SEATAC — As supporters of a $15 minimum wage for workers in and around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport declared victory Tuesday, opponents made clear the fight is far from over.

Common Sense SeaTac, a business-backed political committee opposed to SeaTac Proposition 1’s $15 minimum wage, said it will ask for a recount by hand to ensure “the most accurate possible” results.

The announcement came on the same day the King County Canvassing Board ruled that Proposition 1 officially won by 77 votes out of 6,003.

The Nov. 5 ballot measure calls for an hourly minimum wage of $15 for thousands of hospitality and transportation workers in SeaTac starting Jan. 1.

The state’s election law does not require a recount for closely contested ballot initiatives, but the losing side can pay to have one done. The cost of a hand recount is 25 cents a ballot, or about $1,500 for Proposition 1.

The No campaign, which raised $665,064 and spent $519,216, should have no problem paying for the recount.

The labor-backed group Yes! for SeaTac, which supports the measure, raised $1.4 million in cash and in-kind contributions, spending all but $122,468.

“When an election is this close, everyone should be assured the outcome is as certain as possible,” said Scott Ostrander, general manager of Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac and co-chair of Common Sense SeaTac. “If there’s one thing we all learned from the 2004 recounts of the governor’s race, counting ballots has a margin of error like any other human endeavor.”

Indeed, Democrat Chris Gregoire emerged as the winner of that race by a 130-vote margin after two recounts. Republican Dino Rossi won the first count by 261 votes out of 2.9 million ballots cast, then watched his lead shrink in an automatic machine recount and then evaporate in a manual recount.

In the past five years, King County Elections has performed nine recounts, including a requested hand recount for a 2011 Snoqualmie Valley School District bond measure. None of those recounts changed the outcome or even the vote spread, said King County Elections spokeswoman Kim van Ekstrom.

The SeaTac Yes campaign received 3,040 votes (50.64 percent), while the No campaign collected 2,963 votes (49.36 percent). A recount could be scheduled and done by the end of next week.

The measure’s backers first declared victory on election night, when they held a 261-vote lead, but that margin shrank to as little as 19 votes before widening to more than 70 last Friday.

Now that the canvassing board has made the vote count official, labor activists are calling on opponents such as Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association to drop a legal challenge. An amended lawsuit filed Nov. 8 in King County Superior Court seeks to invalidate the measure on the grounds that it exceeds SeaTac’s initiative power and legislative authority.

“Lawyers and judges will determine this unless the other side grows a conscience and does the right thing,” David Rolf, president of the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Seattle-based Healthcare 775 NW local, said in a news conference at Sea-Tac Airport. Even if it comes down to a courtroom battle, “We are confident in our ability to win.”

Labor activists also are taking their fight for a $15 minimum wage to Seattle: They announced Tuesday that fast-food workers will march from SeaTac to Seattle City Hall on Dec. 5.

Proponents say a $15 minimum wage would lift workers out of poverty and give them more money to spend at local businesses. Opponents argue it would force employers to lay off workers or go out of business.

SeaTac-based Alaska Airlines, which gave about $160,000 to oppose Proposition 1, also has suggested that it would drive up ticket prices.

Joshua Vina, 21, of Tacoma, said he looks forward to earning $15 an hour at the airport starting Jan. 1. He said he currently makes $9.50 an hour as a ramp worker for Menzies Aviation and struggles to support his wife and 19-month-old son.

“I can’t provide for Christmas, but I definitely can provide for my son’s birthday in March,” he said.

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