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SeaTac $15 wage supporters appeal to state Supreme Court

A King County judge ruled last week that SeaTac Proposition 1 does not apply to workers at airport businesses, proponents of the ballot measure disagree.
Should've taken that concierge job? The minimum wage for some SeaTac hotel workers will rise to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, while some baggage handlers will continue to make $9.50.

Should've taken that concierge job? The minimum wage for some SeaTac hotel workers will rise to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, while some baggage handlers will continue to make $9.50. Photo: Derrick Coetzee

Contending that the Port of Seattle is not a “legal island,” supporters of SeaTac’s $15 minimum wage took an initial step on Tuesday to appeal a court decision that voids the pay-floor hike for employees at airport businesses.

The SeaTac Committee For Good Jobs has requested that the Washington state Supreme Court review a ruling issued by a King County Superior Court judge last Friday. Judge Andrea Darvas said that the Port of Seattle, not the City of SeaTac, has jurisdiction over Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. As a result of her ruling, roughly 4,700 workers at airport businesses, including restaurants, retail shops and car rental companies, will not see hourly wage increases when Proposition 1 goes into effect. The minimum wage will rise to $15 per hour for about 1,600 employees at hotels and parking lots around the airport on Jan. 1.

"The legal issue in front of the court will be whether the airport is a legal island immune from the decision of the voters," Sergio Salinas, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 6, said at a press conference held in the airport arrivals hall on Tuesday morning.

In her decision last week, Darvas said that in the case of Proposition 1, the airport is immune.

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

After the press conference, Heather Weiner, a spokeswoman for Yes! For SeaTac, the labor union-backed group that campaigned for the initiative, disagreed with Darvas' view and compared the Port of Seattle to a school district.

“The school district still has to get a construction permit from the city before it builds something,” she said. “The port still has to comply with the county or city or rules in which it exists; it is a government within a government.”

The port is currently reviewing the court ruling, spokesperson Christina Faine said in an emailed statement.

“The Port of Seattle was drawn into this lawsuit after being named a defendant in the case,” the statement said. “While the port has never taken a position on the merits of the initiative, we continue to believe that we have exclusive authority to operate Sea-Tac Airport.”

Alaska Airlines, the Washington State Restaurant Association and two small food companies filed a lawsuit against SeaTac, the city's clerk and the Port of Seattle earlier this year, arguing that Proposition 1 violated a raft of state and federal laws. The SeaTac Committee For Good Jobs, an affiliate of Yes! For SeaTac, has acted as an "intervenor" in the suit.

“It does seem pretty clear to us that the Port of Seattle has exclusive authority to regulate businesses at the airport,” Alaska Airlines spokesman Paul McElroy said. He added that if the minimum wage ordinance were applied at the airport, it would be “as if one municipality were trying to impose a higher sales tax on another municipality.”

Because the minimum wage initiative does not apply to airlines, or workers with collective bargaining agreements, Alaska’s employees would be exempt from the pay increase even if it did go into effect at the airport. The airline, however, hires contractors that use non-union labor to provide services like baggage handling.

In addition to the pay-floor increase, Proposition 1 provides full-time employees at affected businesses with 6.5 days of paid sick leave annually and prevents owners from firing existing staff during the first three months after they take over a business. The initiative also includes exemptions for smaller-sized businesses.

Washington’s minimum wage, which has been $9.19 per hour, is the highest mandated by any state, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The wage will rise to $9.32 on Wednesday.

Yes! For SeaTac released a list of businesses on Tuesday that it says would be covered by and exempted from the wage ordinance based on last week’s court ruling. 

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Posted Wed, Jan 1, 6:54 a.m. Inappropriate

In some ways, it was a "craftily" constructed initiative, in other ways not. If SEIU et. al. can't write an initiative....how can they properly represent workers.

I don't say it often, if ever, but a Kingco judge was right, for once.


Posted Wed, Jan 1, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

This what the RCW's say about the Port and employment-wages, etc.

Considering that they have their own police and fire departments and elected officials, they pretty much sound like a legal entity and Sea-Tac is just one of the holdings of the Port of Seattle.

I do believe that employers at port facilities are required to the pay state minimum wage.


Posted Thu, Jan 2, 11:37 a.m. Inappropriate

What gets me is that the Port has seemed so hesitant and practically tongue-tied on this issue, which involves a direct assault on its own jurisdictional authority. I had thought political entities jealously guarded their fiefdoms of power, and fought tooth-and-nail against any attempts by outside authorities to usurp them. Why should this case be any different?

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