Many Asian Pacific Islander Americans can relate to the mother who taught us that working hard and playing by the rules would lead to reaching our dreams. The opportunity to realize our dreams is why many of our families moved to America, whether it was a hundred years ago or just yesterday. Dream-catching resides not only in the hopes of immigrant and refugee families, but also in the very fabric and ethos of American culture.
While this dream has become a reality for some Americans, there are many for whom the dream simply remains just that: a dream.
Minimum wage, entry-level jobs with benefits and a full-time schedule could lead to greater opportunities. These were once rungs on the ladder to success. Today, it is nearly impossible to work full-time at minimum wage without relying on other support services. According to the Alliance for a Just Society’s 2012 Job Gap report, “Broken Bootstraps: Falling Behind on Full-Time Work,” a family of four in Washington state needs an average household living wage of $29.42 to $38.21 an hour to cover the cost of basic needs. The cost is higher for those living in King County.
While the conversation about raising the minimum wage has been gaining greater ground across the country recently, hospitality and transportation workers in and around SeaTac face additional challenges as well as opportunities for change.
Airlines — in an effort to cut costs and increase profits — have moved from directly hiring and managing employees to hiring contractors to provide a number of ground-based services. Contractors compete for the lowest bid by lowering the cost of services. Workers at the airport are left in the wake and fall prey to employers gaming the system. The dramatic decline in wages, as a result of this business-practice change, was recounted by workers at an event in April. They saw not only more than a $5 drop in hourly wages, but also the complete disregard for the years they had contributed to their careers. Workers on the job for more than 10 years were making the same hourly wage as new employees under the contract system.
Contractors have also cut benefits to lower costs. Although cabin cleaners exposed to toxic cleaning chemicals and baggage claim handlers providing backbreaking manual labor are more likely to be injured on the job, they aren’t guaranteed paid sick leave or vacation. Health insurance is also not an option. As one cabin cleaner highlighted in Puget Sound Sage’s report, “Below the Radar,” insurance “costs between $70 and $120 per week. I make $300 a week, and I can’t afford to buy their health insurance.”
Baggage claim handlers, cabin cleaners and ramp agents are just some of the hospitality and transportation workers for whom the American Dream may become attainable if the SeaTac Good Jobs ballot proposition is approved by SeaTac voters in November.
This initiative, Proposition 1, is modeled after successful efforts in airports along the West Coast and alleviates poverty wage jobs by not only increasing benefits and wages, but also in providing incentives for employers to offer jobs to part-time workers before hiring new full-time employees. Also under the initiative, employers would be required to provide full-time employees with five days of paid sick leave annually and a living wage of $15 per hour. Small businesses are exempted from Prop. 1, creating a fair and equitable distribution of resources where multinational corporations with record profits bear the brunt of protecting workers.
Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment (APACE), recently endorsed Prop. 1. It was an easy vote for an organization with a core value defined as the belief that “all people — regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender expression and identity, socioeconomic status, immigrant status or national origin — deserve the same rights and treatment that enable and empower them to live life with dignity”.
For many immigrant families, the American Dream equates to opportunity and equality, and the belief that, regardless of your circumstances at birth, success is possible for every individual. The SeaTac Good Jobs Initiative is a reminder to all of us of our principles as a nation and puts us back on course to achieve the Dream.