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SeaTac wage dispute before state’s top court

Fri., June 27, 2014

OLYMPIA – The state’s first $15 minimum wage should extend to SeaTac International Airport because the higher wages don’t interfere with airport operations, attorneys for the city of SeaTac told the state Supreme Court on Thursday. 

But an attorney for the airport argued the city has no authority to enforce the law approved at the ballot box by city residents because the airport is governed by a separate government 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. The Port of Seattle is owner and operator of the airport.

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 last year, 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 forced on the airport. But Wayne Tanaka, an attorney for the city, argued Thursday 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. 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 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 state 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 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 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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