Workers Risk Getting Fired And Waging Legal Battles Over A $15 Minimum Wage


In November, the people of the town of SeaTac, Washington, which surrounds the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, voted to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. While a court decision undid parts of the measure by saying it can’t apply to those employed inside the airport, it still applies to other businesses outside of it, and it went into effect on January 1.

But when Lou Lehman and her coworkers got their first paychecks of the year, they say that their employer, Extra Car Airport Parking, Inc., was still paying them somewhere between $10.32 and $10.82 an hour. Given that the company operates outside the airport and meets the size thresholds, she and 12 other coworkers filed complaints with the City of SeaTac that they weren’t being paid at least $15 an hour. She and four of those coworkers who filed the complaints have now been fired. The city has sent a letter to the company telling it to comply but isn’t required to enforce the law.

So she filed a class action lawsuit against her former employer on behalf of anyone who was paid by the hour and making less than that mandated higher level. The lawsuit estimates that 40 employees have been underpaid since the start of the year. The company did not respond to a request for comment, but its owner told KPLU that three of the workers were fired for safety reasons or company policy violations and the other two were let go because they didn’t want to work full time.

Lehman told ThinkProgress that she filed the suit not to get her job back, but to “make a point.” She didn’t think she would be involved in the fight over a $15 minimum wage. “I didn’t plan to become an activist, but life happens and all of a sudden I’m fighting this,” she said. Instead, she was spurred into action through frustration. “To see them not obey the law is tough for me,” she said. “They’re just getting away with it.”

Her position as a transport driver with the company, which she’s had since November, was a second job, and between her and her husband, she says they kept down four jobs total. “Now we have three,” she says. “So we’re getting by, it’s just not as easy.”

But a $15 minimum wage, had she been paid at that level, would have made a huge difference. While she noted that it would mean more for a full-time worker, she said it “could really mean the difference between not having to borrow from a payday loan place,” adding, “it kind of gets you to a point where it’s easier to live.”

Another worker who should now be eligible for the minimum wage, Abdirahman Abdullahi, who currently works for Hertz, previously told ThinkProgress that a $15 wage would mean that he could “live a better life in this community.” It would allow him to potentially moving his wife and two children from a one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom place and even saving up to buy a house.

The $15 wage level is what fast food workers have gone on strike after strike to demand from their employers. It has also cropped up as the potential minimum wage for nearby Seattle as well as Chicago and Los Angeles. But the lawsuit against Extra Car and the court battle over the larger measure shows that even after voters weighed in to mandate a higher wage, workers may be a long way off from seeing the benefits.