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.
Among the covered businesses are Hilton, Marriot, Holiday Inn, Radisson and Hampton Inn hotels, three parking lots and the airport shuttle service, Shuttle Express. The exempted list includes over 20 restaurants and retailers, 21 airline contractors and five rental car companies that are within the bounds of the airport and will therefore be unaffected by the wage increase.
Iris Guzman, a SeaTac resident who voted for Proposition 1, spoke in support of the initiative at Tuesday's press conference.
"I voted for the whole proposition," she said. "Not just part of it."
Alex Hoopes, who worked for 15 years as a baggage handler for Alaska said he was making $21 per hour when the airline laid him off in 2005. Now, he makes $9.50 per hour working for AirServ, a contractor that provides luggage handling and airplane cleaning services.
“I cannot afford to have a mortgage payment,” said Hoopes, who has been on hand at past Yes! For SeaTac press events.
McElroy said that earlier this year Alaska asked Menzies Aviation, a contractor, to raise hourly wages for some ramp workers. The company agreed to bump wages from $9.50 to $10.88 per hour and said it would implement raises that increase ramp worker's pay to about $12 per hour after they work at Menzies for two years.
"The pay for every job is determined by the law, by market conditions, by the skills that are required for the job," McElroy said "That’s why pay rates are different for different jobs."