Exciting things are happening right now in the Seattle-Tacoma area.
This Tuesday, voters will decide whether to raise the Seattle-Tacoma minimum wage to $15 per hour, from the current $9.10 per hour mandated in the area. If passed, this measure, known as Proposition 1, will raise pay for about 6,500 workers in the city - including many at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA-TAC) - and give paid sick days to many workers for the first time. The initiative is also expected to lead to a $54 million income boost for the region and create 400 local jobs.
But what's exciting is that this isn't just a story about Seattle-Tacoma.
Airports are hubs of economic activity for the country. Airports and aviation-related industries are major employers that play a significant role in determining the health of our communities. Nationwide, 10 million people are employed in aviation-related jobs and the industry accounts for more than 5 percent of GDP.
Yet instead of providing good jobs for workers in our communities, the nation's airports and the airlines that contribute to their business are driving down standards for all workers. In fact, after decades of outsourcing critical services, airports and airlines have catalyzed a "race to the bottom" in standards resulting in poverty-wage jobs for many of the workers who provide critical services for passengers and companies. In Seattle-Tacoma, this trend has had a dramatic impact on the community with one in six residents living below the poverty line and the number of children in poverty nearly doubling in the last decade to about 31 percent.
No one who works hard and has a job in one of the largest sectors of our economy should have to struggle to survive on a low-paying job with little or no benefits - but that's what is happening across the country. Men and women who are putting in long hours every day are forced to face impossible choices like whether to pay the rent or visit the doctor.
But in Seattle-Tacoma and elsewhere, people are starting to fight back. The Seattle-Tacoma ballot initiative is a prime example of how one community is working to address the steady disappearance of good-paying, middle-class jobs that can support a family. Nationally, others are also recognizing that declining pay and benefits are bad for our economy, and they are taking action - just look at the recent protests by fast food workers in more than 60 cities.
The stakes are clearly high for Seattle-Tacoma. But one sign that the fight is bigger than this small community is that national conservative groups are wading into the fray. The Freedom Foundation, funded by the Koch brothers, has released misleading reports about the unions who support the initiative, and "Common Sense SeaTac" - the main opposition group to the initiative - has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council. The involvement of these national conservative organizations makes clear their fear that Seattle-Tacoma could spearhead a larger movement across the country.
On November 5, we'll learn the fate of low-wage workers in Seattle-Tacoma. Whether the measure passes or not, it's a huge step toward ensuring that every American has access to the American Dream - and it's a fight we can expect to see replicated in other communities in the coming years.
Those who care about the future of the middle class should pay attention.