Fight Promised Over Exempting Airport from $15 Minimum Wage

By Bill Lucia, December 28, 2013, Crosscut

The $15 per hour minimum wage initiativethat 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 affect 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.

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