[Courtney] Gregoire said the Port understands there is a court case pending, but hopes the court recognizes the Port of Seattle is unique and has a unique authority of the airport and stands by the Ports decision saying she thinks it is a good solution.
“You know you are probably in a good place when some people are saying you didn’t go far enough, and others that say we went too far,” she said.
Because… why? Why exactly is that ever a good place?
Look, I’m enough of a pragmatist to understand that compromise is often necessary, because in politics, compromise is often the only way to get shit done. And maybe that applies here. But this is a metric that confuses the means for the end, inherently elevating compromise as the primary measure of political success. And that’s just fundamentally stupid. Literally slicing the baby in half is an equitable compromise that makes nobody happy, whereas awarding the whole baby to one contesting mother or the other is sure to leave one party totally aggrieved. You tell me, which is the better place?
Furthermore, Gregoire’s use of the Nobody’s Happy Scale is typical in that it is cited without reference to context or proportion. But to say that some people think you “went too far” while others think you “didn’t go far enough”—without ever acknowledging the relative number of people on either side (let alone the credibility of their arguments)—echoes the logic of climate change deniers who routinely cite a handful of scientists in refutation of tens of thousands!
And this isn’t just a semantic nit I’m picking. Rather, it is central to the way the language of political discourse serves to disempower the majority. For in truth, the Sea-Tac minimum wage debate pits just a handful of profitable businesses against thousands of low-wage airport workers—a dozen or so “too fars” versus about 6,000 “not far enoughs.” So, intentional or not, how is Gregoire’s math much different from this?
“If you have the 1 percent saying, ‘Tax the 99 percent,’ and the 99 percent saying, ‘Tax the 1 percent,’ you have a standstill.”
— former WA State Senator Joseph Zarelli (R-Ridgefield), 12/2/2011
Of course, what Gregoire is really attempting to accomplish with this offhand appeal to the Nobody’s Happy Scale, is to establish a claim of neutrality. If nobody’s happy, she is arguing, then you can’t accuse the commissioners of taking sides. But unfortunately, that’s not supported by the facts on the ground.
For if the commissioners were truly neutral, after years of denying they even had the legal authority to impose a minimum wage at the airport, then they would have stayed the hell out of Alaska Airlines’ lawsuit instead of joining it! In fact, given Gregoire’s statement that she hopes the court “recognizes… and stands by the Port’s decision,” it is not unreasonable to view the commissioner’s belated actions with a fair degree of cynicism.
Which is a shame. Because while I question the commissioners’ judgment as well as the language they inartfully chose to defend it, I don’t question their motives. Buried in the supporting documents is the compelling data-driven argument that low wages lead to high turnover which leads to greater security risks at the airport. I wish Gregoire had taken the opportunity to drive that point home as a justification for raising airport wages. And if the other side of the commission’s compromise was equally data-driven, I wish they would have clearly presented those arguments too.
Instead, what we got was the Nobody’s Happy Scale, a compromise for the sake of compromise platitude that can’t help but perpetuate the same profound imbalance of power between labor (the many) and capital (the few) that the SeaTac $15 minimum wage initiative was necessary to address.