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City, airport fight over $15 minimum wage

Thu., June 26, 2014, 1:04 p.m.

Seatac case goes to Supreme Court

OLYMPIA — The state’s first $15 minimum wage should extend to SeaTac Airport because the higher wages don’t interfere with airport operations, attorneys for the City of Seatac told the state Supreme Court today.

But an attorney for the airport argued the city has no authority to enforce the law approved at the ballot box by Seatac residents because the airport is governed by a separate entity, the Port of Seattle.

“The city of Seatac could not regulate in the city of Bothell any more that it can regulate at the Port of Seattle,” Timothy Leyh said.

There’s a big difference, countered Dmitri Iglitzen, an attorney for the group that sponsored the initiative: “The city of Bothell is not within the city of Seatac.”

After voters approved a mandatory minimum wage of $15 an hour for large corporations in Seatac in the 2013 election, the airport and some of its employers quickly challenged it and won a lower court ruling that under state law the wage couldn’t be extended to the airport. But Wayne Tanaka, an attorney for the city, argued today that law doesn’t cover everything at the airport, only things that would interfere with the airport’s operation. The city has the power to enforce laws that cover public health, safety and welfare, and the minimum wage should fall under that.

“There’s no evidence in this case (the $15 minimum wage) interferes with airport operations,” Tanaka said.

Leyh said the port district wasn’t taking a position on whether the higher minimum wage was good or bad, only that raising it was the exclusive jurisdiction of the port. But an attorney for some companies that would have to pay the higher wages said the law is so broad it is really a way to force the employers to recognize unions.

The higher wage rate was included with restrictions on part-time and contract employees, new benefits and rules on record keeping, and violates the state’s rules that require initiatives stick to a single subject, Harry Korrell said.

“You could couple almost anything with a $15 minimum wage and it would pass,” he said.

But Chief Justice Barbara Madsen said the initiative said it was about labor standards, and all of the things Korrell mentioned could be considered labor standards. Justice Charles Johnson said they would all fall under the subject of collective bargaining.

Although Korrell argued federal law prohibits local ordinances that interfere directly or indirectly with the operation of the airport, Iglitzin said raising the labor costs to the airlines or their subcontractors does not interfere with operations — unless it cuts into their profits so much that it causes them to revise or cancel routes.

“The goal of the law was to help as many workers as possible in the city of Seatac get a living wage,” Iglitzin said

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