| OLYMPIA, Wash.
OLYMPIA, Wash. Dec 27 The voter-approved law
establishing a $15 minimum hourly wage for travel and
hospitality workers in a Seattle suburb encompassing the
region's main international airport does not apply to workers at
the airport, a judge ruled on Friday.
King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas ruled that
the city of SeaTac does not have the authority to set workplace
rules within Seattle-Tacoma International Airport because the
aviation hub is owned by the Port of Seattle, a separate
Supporters of the law, who view it as an example for
communities elsewhere to emulate in their fight for a living
wage, said they will appeal the decision directly to the
Washington state Supreme Court.
"The Washington State Legislature has clearly and
unequivocally stated its intent that municipalities other than
the Port of Seattle may not exercise any jurisdiction or control
over SeaTac Airport operations, or the laws and rules governing
those operations," Darvas wrote in her ruling.
Darvas is the same judge who in August ruled that the voter
initiative be struck from the ballot in a decision subsequently
overturned on appeal.
Under her ruling on Friday, the minimum wage and paid sick
leave law does not apply to roughly 4,700 airport workers but
does cover about 1,600 workers at SeaTac hotels, rental car
agencies and parking lots. The law, which as written exempts
small firms, unionized workforces and airlines, is set to take
effect on Jan. 1.
Supporters of the law, which passed by a margin of 77 votes
in November with about 6,000 ballots cast and survived a
subsequent recount, said they expected the judge to rule against
them but are confident of prevailing on appeal.
"Full-time workers at the airport should be able to support
their families without public assistance," said Heather Weiner,
spokeswoman for the union-backed Yes for SeaTac campaign.
Plaintiffs in the case were led by Alaska Airlines, which
has its primary hub at the airport and which in 2005 terminated
its roughly 500 unionized ramp workers there, some of whom were
rehired as lower-paid nonunion contractors.
"Alaska Airlines believes in fair pay and benefits for all
workers, and we respect every worker and the job they do," said
Alaska Airlines spokesman Paul McElroy. "This lawsuit isn't
about $15 an hour. It's about an initiative that violates state
and federal law."
Washington state's hourly minimum wage is already higher
than any other state's, and is set to rise by 13 cents to $9.32
an hour in January. The new wage in the city of SeaTac will be
among the nation's highest, just below a $15.38 rate mandated
for city workers and contractors in Sonoma, California.
The law is not without precedent.
Since 1994, when Baltimore instituted the country's first
so-called living wage ordinance, more than 120 local governments
have followed suit, according to the National Employment Law
Four major California airports operate under ordinances
similar to the SeaTac law, including one guaranteeing workers at
San Jose airport $13.82 an hour plus health insurance, and
another mandating that Los Angeles airport workers earn $10.91
per hour plus health benefits.