SEATTLE — A national push to create a $15 minimum wage found a new source of momentum Tuesday as an initiative on the issue built an early lead in the airport city of SeaTac.
An early vote count showed the measure carrying 54 percent of the vote. Because Washington state votes entirely by mail and ballots only need to be postmarked by Tuesday, more ballots are left to count.
The campaign in SeaTac drew national attention from both labor unions and business groups, with the two sides combining to spend $1.8 million — enough money to hire every registered voter in the city for a day at $15 per hour. It followed a series of summertime rallies in which fast food workers and others around the country called attention to their struggle to earn a living.
Supporters declared victory Tuesday night, saying the win gives hope to thousands of people, helping them pay bills, take care of medical issues, save for retirement and pursue an education.
Heather Weiner, a spokeswoman for the campaign to support the initiative, said the vote is a sign that people are tired of waiting for Congress or corporations to make a change on wages. She said she expects the vote will inspire people to take more action, noting that there is increased discussion in nearby Seattle about the issue, and that people can now push the issue at the ballot.
"This has introduced a new way to address that income inequality — through a public conversation," Weiner said.
She particularly mentioned how the vote may help workers in fast-food restaurants and big box stores.
Gary Smith, a spokesman with opposition group Common Sense SeaTac, said the group was cautiously optimistic that the results could shift as later ballots are counted. He noted that less than 300 votes separate the two sides, with perhaps thousands more ballots remaining.
The proposal requires a $15 minimum wage for many workers in and around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Proponents say the plan will support the local economy and particularly help thousands of workers who could use the money. Opponents express concern about the impacts on businesses and contend that the plan's enforcement may end up costing the small city money.
Groups outside of Washington state are watching the results. National labor unions contributed to support the effort while national business organizations contributed in opposition.
The campaign also drew the attention of the mayoral candidates in nearby Seattle. Both Mayor Mike McGinn and challenger Ed Murray voiced support for the initiative and the idea of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle.
Washington state has the nation's highest state minimum wage at $9.19 an hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.