Washington State’s High Court Extends SeaTac Minimum Wage to Airport Workers

SEATTLE (The Seattle Times/TNS) -

The $15-per-hour minimum-wage law passed by SeaTac residents two years ago does apply to workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Washington’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In a 5-4 decision, the court majority upheld Proposition 1 in its entirety, saying it can be enforced at the airport as well as in the surrounding city because there’s “been no showing that this law would interfere with airport operations.”

The ruling, overturning a lower court decision that said the airport was not subject to the city’s minimum-wage law, is expected to affect some 4,700 people who are employed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport by contractors, concessionaires and car-rental agencies, according to proponents of the minimum-wage law.

Voters in the City of SeaTac, a Seattle suburb, in November 2013 passed a law boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The proposition’s backers had intended for the law to cover airport workers.

But opponents, including Alaska Airlines, the Washington Restaurant Association and Filo Foods, filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s power to dictate pay at Sea-Tac Airport, which is owned and operated by the Port of Seattle.

That lawsuit resulted in a December 2013 ruling by King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas that the law couldn’t be enforced at the airport due to a decades-old state law giving the Port of Seattle exclusive jurisdiction over all operations at the airport.

However, Darvas ruled that the law was binding at nearby hotels and parking lots. As a result, only about 1,600 hospitality and transportation workers in the City of SeaTac received bumps in pay to $15 on Jan. 1, 2014.

SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs, the group that backed Proposition 1, appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in June 2014.

Thursday’s state Supreme Court decision reversed Darvas’s ruling that the law couldn’t be enforced at the airport.

The state Supreme Court said the minimum-wage law could be “harmonized” with state law because the Port did not show that the proposition would specifically interfere with operations at the airport.

The original state law granting power to the Port over airport operations is intended to “vest authority for the operation of the airport exclusively with the Port of Seattle, but not to prohibit a local municipality like the city of SeaTac from regulating for the general welfare in a manner unrelated to airport operations,” the court decision says.

The Supreme Court also said the port — and thus the airport — is still subject to state laws, including the state minimum-wage law, which “sets the minimum wage in any given location at the most favorable level to the employee whether by federal, state, or local law.”

A spokeswoman for SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs said the ruling means “thousands of hard-working men and women at the airport are sending each other jubilant text messages, happy that they will finally get the fair pay and paid sick leave approved by the voters 20 months ago.”

“It’s about time the 4,700 people who make Sea-Tac a world class airport are able to participate in our region’s booming economic growth,” said spokeswoman Heather Weiner.

Alaska Airlines issued a statement Thursday saying it “respects the views of the Washington State Supreme Court and will carefully review the full decision as we determine the appropriate next steps.

The company added that, as the largest airline operation at Sea-Tac, “Alaska Airlines voluntarily increased wages in April 2014 for more than 1,000 vendor employees at the airport.”

The Washington Restaurant Association said Thursday it was disappointed in the court’s decision, but “there are no appeals to be made as the Supreme Court is the highest law in the state, and we respect the court’s judgment. Our focus is now on helping our members succeed as they deal with the results of this verdict.”

Filo Foods declined to comment.

The Port of Seattle, which agreed with Proposition 1 opponents that the law should not be applied at the airport, issued a statement Thursday saying that it “respects the Washington State Supreme Court’s decision on the City of SeaTac’s Prop 1 initiative and we are reviewing what effects the ruling may have on operations, policies and employment standards related to tenants, customers and stakeholders who work at Sea-Tac Airport.”