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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 21, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 34
Airport workers to get $15 per hour, State Supreme Court rules
Section One
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Airport workers to get $15 per hour, State Supreme Court rules

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Airport workers are covered by the SeaTac minimum wage law approved by voters in 2013, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled on August 20.

The decision came on a narrow vote of 5 to 4, but as a result, some 4,700 restaurant employees, custodians, baggage handlers and other workers at the airport will now be paid $15.24 per hour.

The workers at SeaTac will also be owed back pay dating back to January 1, 2014, according to Dmitri Iglitzin, an attorney for SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs, the union-backed group that led the effort to pass the minimum-wage initiative.

Alaska Airlines and the Port Commission challenged the minimum wage law, arguing that state law gives the port 'exclusive jurisdiction' over airport operations and consequently a municipal ordinance like the minimum wage law cannot be applied to airport workers.

Writing for the majority, Justice Susan Owens said the state law was ambiguous, however.

'[W]e conclude that the legislature intended to give the Port of Seattle exclusive jurisdiction over the operation of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: specifically 'the construction, enlargement, improvement, maintenance, equipment, operation, and regulation' of the airport,' Owens said.

'Here, [the minimum wage law] has nothing to do with airport operations or the subject of aeronautics. In addition, the Port of Seattle does not show that Proposition 1 would interfere with airport operations. As a result, we conclude that Proposition 1 can be enforced at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport without violating [state law].'

'We also hold that federal labor law does not preempt [the law's] provision protecting workers from retaliation. Consequently, we uphold [the minimum wage law] in its entirety, ' Owens concluded.

Owens also dismissed arguments by airport food vendors that the minimum wage law violated the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

With only 28,000 residents, the city of SeaTac is small, but it became the center of attention when a coalition of unions and community activists put Proposition 1, the minimum wage initiative, on the ballot in 2013.

The measure passed by only 77 votes, but when it went into effect in January 2014 it raised wages for all SeaTac workers, except for those at the airport. Airport workers were intended to be covered, but a state district court ruled that they were outside the jurisdiction of city ordinances.

The State Supreme Court's August 20 ruling reverses the lower court's decision and allows airport workers to earn the same minimum wage as other SeaTac employees.

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