By Dave Jamieson
In late 2013, voters in this airport town outside Seattle narrowly approved a groundbreaking measure setting a minimum wage of $15 per hour for certain workers. When the new law went into effect last year, Sammi Babakrkhil got a whopping 57 percent raise.
A valet attendant and shuttle driver at a parking company called MasterPark, Babakrkhil saw his base wage jump from $9.55 per hour, before tips, up to $15. Having scraped by in America since immigrating from Afghanistan 11 years ago, he suddenly faced the pleasant predicament as his co-workers: What to do with the windfall?
For the overworked father of three, it wasn’t a hard question. Babakrkhil decided to quit his other full-time job driving shuttles at a hotel down the road. Though he’d take home less money overall, the pay hike at MasterPark would allow him to work 40 hours a week instead of a brutal 80 — and to actually spend time with his wife and three young girls.
“My kids used to not see me,” said Babakrkhil, who notes that the new work arrangement has also afforded him time to start exercising. “Now I make a little bit less, but I’m enjoying my life … I’m happy this way.”
Babakrkhil’s colleague Deyo Hirata, who also received a considerable raise, said he now frets less about making ends meet. Though he has always taken pride in his job and maintained a good relationship with his managers, he says the wage hike has made him feel better rewarded for his labor. Nobody will get rich earning $15 per hour in an area as expensive as greater Seattle, but for the first time now, Hirata is seeing the possibility of savings.