Northwest News

Minimum wage protest interrupts Thurston Chamber’s annual meeting

Sometimes a meeting, attended by more than 200 people, just doesn’t go as planned.

That was the case Wednesday for the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce’s 110th annual meeting when shortly after it started it was interrupted by a group of protestors, representing Working Washington.

That’s the same group that has staged recent gatherings in downtown Olympia in support of a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

About a half-dozen chanted during the brief protest, saying things such as “Dignity, respect, put $15 in my check,” and “When we fight, we win.”

After about a minute of protest, the group left the ballroom space at the Red Lion Hotel Olympia.

Thurston Chamber President and Chief Executive David Schaffert was speaking when the group stood up from their table. He let them finish and then responded by saying the community will continue to have a discussion about the minimum wage issue.

Keynote speaker Joe Sprague, senior vice president of communications and external relations for Alaska Airlines, picked up where Schaffert left off.

Sprague filled in for planned speaker Brad Tilden, president and chief executive of Alaska Airlines, who was unable to make it Wednesday.

Sprague said the company has had productive conversations with Working Washington over the last few years and increased hourly wages for vendor employees, plus those that receive tips.

Ramp workers and baggage handlers now receive $12 per hour, while those that receive tips, such as service providers who push customers through the airport in wheelchairs, now earn $10 per hour, he said after the meeting.

As for safety, Sprague said after the meeting that a baggage handling vendor has reinforced to its employees what is allowed and not allowed on the job after one of those workers recently fell asleep in the cargo hold of an Alaska Airlines plane.

Alaska has about 13,000 employees, including 6,600 in the state and 126 in Thurston County, Sprague said. Alaska is adding flights to two destinations in Costa Rica later this year, he said.

The meeting also addressed the Chamber’s past year. It earned net income of $16,000 on total revenue of $1.07 million. The Chamber foundation also finished the past year in the black with net income of more than $24,000 on total revenue of about $400,000, according to information distributed at the meeting. The Chamber has about 1,400 members.

Also Wednesday: