Fight promised over exempting airport from $15 minimum wage

A judge has ruled that 4,700 Sea-Tac airport workers will not see pay increases when the law goes into affect on Jan. 1.
SEIU Local 6 president Sergio Salinas speaks at a Nov. 26 Yes! for SeaTac press conference about election results.

SEIU Local 6 president Sergio Salinas speaks at a Nov. 26 Yes! for SeaTac press conference about election results. Photo: Bill Lucia

The $15 per hour minimum wage initiative that City of SeaTac voters narrowly approved in November will not apply for about 4,700 workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, a King County judge ruled on Friday.

The law will still go into effect on Jan. 1 for about 1,600 employees at hotels and parking lots around the airport. Opponents of SeaTac Proposition 1 — including Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association — challenged the legality of the initiative on a number of grounds, arguing it was overly broad and violated state and federal laws.

King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvis sided with the initiative’s supporters throughout most of her 33-page ruling, but said that City of SeaTac ordinances do not apply at the airport.

“The municipality which controls and operates SeaTac Airport is the Port of Seattle,” Darvis wrote. “Airport facilities and operations are ‘under the exclusive jurisdiction and control’ of the Port of Seattle, subject to ‘federal and state laws, rules, and regulations’ but not subject to the laws, rules and regulations of SeaTac or other municipalities.”

Yes! For SeaTac, the group that campaigned for the initiative, said on Twitter that they would file an expedited appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court.

With about 6,000 ballots cast, the initiative passed by a 77 vote margin, which was confirmed in a hand recount.

In addition to the hourly pay increase the initiative provides full-time employees at affected businesses with paid sick leave and prevents owners from firing existing staff during the first three months after they take over a business. The initiative does not apply for unionized employees and includes exemptions for smaller-sized businesses.

During the campaign, Yes! For SeaTac raised about $1.59 million in contributions and Common Sense Sea Tac, the group opposed to the initiative, raised about $672,800. Yes! For SeaTac received hefty financial support from labor groups, especially the Service Employees International Union. Common Sense Sea Tac's top donors included Alaska Airlines, the Washington Lodging Political Action Committee and the American Car Rental Association.

David Rolf, president of SEIU 775NW, who was involved in the Yes! For SeaTac campaign, was recently chosen by Seattle’s Mayor-elect Ed Murray to co-chair a committee that will try to come up with a plan for increasing the city’s minimum wage. Incoming Socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant, a proponent of the SeaTac initiative and a staunch advocate of increasing Seattle’s pay floor to $15 per hour, is also serving on the committee.

Washington’s minimum wage, which is currently $9.19 per hour, is the highest mandated by any state, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The state’s pay floor will rise to $9.32 on Jan. 1.

Bill Lucia writes about Seattle City Hall and politics for Crosscut. He can be reached at and you can follow him on Twitter @bill_lucia.

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Posted Sat, Dec 28, 10:46 p.m. Inappropriate

The bottom rung is still the bottom rung and raising the pay scale doesn't guarantee jobs for those currently on the bottom rung. For that kind of money employers will pick and chose who they'll drop the money on and automation will be explored where it makes economic sense.


Posted Sun, Dec 29, 7:13 p.m. Inappropriate

How in the world is the Port of Seattle a "municipality"? This is patently ridiculous, and the judge stating this should lose her seat on the bench. The Port is a municipal corporation, but it is not a municipality. Who would be the ones to vote on this proposition for the Port of Seattle's "municipality"? Who are the Port of Seattle's "citizens"? Would there be an "citizens" to vote on such an initiative in the Port of Seattle "municipality"?

Get Andrea Darvas off the bench! Is it possible she has made this perverted interpretation of the law in order to benefit someone other than the electorate? Isn't her own position elected?

Posted Wed, Jan 1, 5:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Even delineating the Port as a Municipal Corporation, the judge would still be right to quote the Legislature verbatim when pointing out that said Municipal Corporations (i.e. Ports) have exclusive control of operations. The surrounding and overlaying municipality does not get to interfer with that. The legislature reserved that right to itself.

Sea-Tac is also a municipal corporation. It is a municipal corporation of a different type and character in the RCW but in no way jurisdictionally superior to the Port (or a fire district seperately created prior to or within its jurisdiction).

The judge got it right and the appelants are going to have tough sleding at the Washington Supreme Court.

That is the problem with iniatives, be they right wing ones like Eymann's or left wing one like this one. They are poorly drafted and don't do well in court.

Posted Mon, Dec 30, 7:49 a.m. Inappropriate

I was not for this initiative but I accept its outcome, for better or worse, and I disagree with this judge's interpretation. The Port of Seattle (which is NOT a municipality but a bureaucracy) could end the debate by saying the initiative applies to the airport property as well. I'm not sure about Andrea Darvas, rubbersoul, but Port commissioners ARE elected.

I'm with Djinn in that raising the minimum wage to $15 will likely result in the loss of jobs, but this is a democracy and the people have spoken.

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