SEATTLE - Skycaps are the first to greet travelers at Sea-Tac Airport, the people you go to when you're in a hurry and the lines inside look overwhelming.
But the people who check bags at the curbside are also part of another, lesser-known Sea-Tac crowd: those making minimum wage with no medical benefits.
It used to be that a skycap could live on tips, though that extra bit disappeared whenever health problems arrived.
And in the post-Sept. 11 world of airline penny pinching, their income is being whittled away by the airlines and the companies they contract with.
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But now, a union representing a portion of Sea-Tac's skycaps and wheelchair attendants is working with the support of some Port of Seattle commissioners to try to craft a way to pay workers a living wage without pushing costs beyond the breaking point for the port, the airlines or the passengers.
United, Alaska Airlines, US Airways, Northwest, American and America West charge $2 a bag for curb checking, but that money isn't going to the skycaps.
It goes to the contractors, the airlines or both. The result, the skycaps say, is financial hardship and second and third jobs.
"The fee on baggage has dramatically lessened the tips I would have received," said skycap James Taggart, 44, who has worked at Sea-Tac for 23 years and commutes from Puyallup to do so.
"It goes something along the lines of this: Now, when I get $5 for two bags, $4 goes to the company, and you don't want to say anything to the customer, but it is $1 where I would have gotten $5."