In a Dec. 27 ruling, a judge struck down Seatac’s voter-passed $15-an-hour minimum wage for airport workers, but upheld it for hotel and transportation workers outside the airport.
King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas ruled that under state law, the Port of Seattle has exclusive jurisdiction over Sea-Tac airport. Thus, the airport is not subject to ordinances passed by the City of Seatac, the 27,000-resident municipality that encompasses the airport. Voters in Seatac had passed in November — by 77 votes — the highest-in-the-nation minimum wage by ballot initiative. The initiative also gave hospitality and transportation workers other rights, including paid sick days and the right for employees of contractors to keep their jobs when the contract changes hands.
The Yes for SeaTac campaign — the coalition of unions, community groups, and churches that crafted the initiative — filed an expedited appeal Dec. 31 to the Washington Supreme Court. For now, about 1,600 hotel and parking lot workers who work within the City of Seatac get raises to $15 an hour, but an estimated 4,700 baggage handlers, car rental workers, and others who work in the airport itself will have to wait for the results of a legal appeal.
This wasn’t Darvas’ first time ruling on the Seatac ballot measure. Last summer, she agreed with an attempt by Alaska Airlines to keep the measure off the ballot, but that decision was overruled by the Washington Court of Appeals.
This time, Darvas rejected most of the grab bag of arguments made by the initiative’s opponents — that it violates the rule that initiatives must encompass only one subject, that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause by mistreating out-of-state employers, that it violates state law by letting unaffected parties sue employers, or that it is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act. But Darvas agreed with the jurisdictional argument: The City of Seatac may not regulate the airport, because only the Port of Seattle may do that.
Ironically, elected Port of Seattle commissioners earlier had repeatedly argued that they didn’t have authority to regulate wages — when the union-community coalition called on them to raise the minimum wage for airport workers. Under Darvas’ ruling, they’ll no longer have that excuse.