Judge: SeaTac’s $15 wage floor can’t include airport workers
Less than a week before a $15 minimum wage was to take effect for about 6,300 workers in SeaTac, a King County judge has barred its enforcement at the airport but will let it stand at nearby hotels and parking lots.
Seattle Times business reporter
Less than a week before a $15 minimum wage was to take effect for about 6,300 workers in SeaTac, a King County judge has ruled it can’t be enforced at the airport, but is legally binding at nearby hotels and parking lots.
The upshot is that only about 1,600 hospitality and transportation workers in SeaTac now stand to receive a $15 minimum wage on Wednesday, the start date for Proposition 1.
The estimated 4,700 people who work at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for contractors, concessionaires and car-rental agencies are not covered by the ballot measure, King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvis ruled Friday.
Darvas’ 33-page ruling says a decades-old state law gives the Port of Seattle exclusive jurisdiction over “all operations and activities occurring at the airport, its buildings, roads and facilities,” so the municipal ordinance cannot be enforced there.
The labor-backed group Yes! for SeaTac that worked to pass Proposition 1, disagreed with the ruling and said it will file an expedited appeal to the state Supreme Court.
SeaTac Proposition 1 was fiercely opposed by national and local business interests, including Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association, which brought the legal challenge.
The Port of Seattle stayed quiet on the measure during the campaign, but now agrees with opponents that Proposition 1 conflicts with state law and is unenforceable at the airport.
That argument drew fire Friday from Yes! for SeaTac spokeswoman Heather Weiner, who called it a sudden turnabout.
“The Port of Seattle has argued for years that it’s a limited-purpose government, like a school or fire district, and now all of a sudden, it’s not. It’s a form of almost a tribal government and immune to city or county ordinances,” she said.
Darvas largely rejected opponents’ argument that federal labor laws override a municipal wage measure like Proposition 1.
Alaska Airlines, which is based in SeaTac, agreed with Friday’s ruling and said it will defend its position before the state Supreme Court if necessary.
It also sought to portray itself as not opposed to the idea of a $15 minimum wage and expressed support for efforts to address rising income inequality.
“Alaska Airlines believes in fair pay and benefits for all workers, and we respect every worker and the job they do,” said corporate spokesman Paul McElroy. “This lawsuit is not about $15 an hour. It’s about an initiative that violates state and federal law.”
He said Alaska believes education is key to closing the wealth gap and is working on a plan to help entry-level workers at the airport get more training and move up the career ladder.
Proposition 1 opponents tried unsuccessfully last summer to block the measure on the grounds that petitions did not have enough valid signatures to qualify for the Nov. 5 ballot. Darvas, in turn, voided some signatures, but a three-judge panel of the Washington Court of Appeals reversed her ruling, giving Proposition 1 the go-ahead.
The two sides went on to spend about $1.8 million combined in an election campaign that’s believed to be the most expensive ever statewide on a per-voter basis.
Proposition 1 passed by only 77 votes out of about 6,000 cast and survived a hand recount paid for by opponents.
The initiative raises the city’s hourly wage floor for hospitality and transportation workers to $15 from the statewide standard of $9.32 on Jan. 1 and assures annual inflation adjustments.
In addition to a $15 minimum wage, Proposition 1 requires affected employers to provide paid sick leave, promote part-time workers to full time before hiring additional part-timers and retain employees for at least 90 days after an ownership change. Those requirements can be waived in a union contract.
Weiner said Friday’s ruling was expected, and lawyers will be ready to go with an appeal next week.
“For 1,600 people it’s good news,” she said. “For 4,700 people, it’s absolutely disappointing. But these are people who’ve been trying for years to improve their working conditions, and we’ll continue to fight with them.”
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @amyemartinez