David Rolf, SEIU International Vice President, speaks Nov.26 at Seattle-Tacoma… (Elaine Thompson, AP )
SEATTLE — A closely watched ballot measure that would set the minimum wage at $15 an hour for certain workers in the small city of SeaTac was dealt another setback late Friday, when a superior court judge ruled that the proposition would not affect employees at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Proposition 1, which passed Nov. 5 with a 77-vote margin and survived a recount, would have given more than 6,000 workers at big hotels, airport concessions, airport parking lots and large rental car companies a 63% raise and granted them paid sick leave.
But King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas ruled that although the measure was constitutional, SeaTac did not have "jurisdiction or police power" over the airport, which lies within SeaTac city limits but is governed by the Port of Seattle.
As a result, an estimated 4,700 baggage handlers, sales clerks and others who work for contractors and concessionaires at the airport will not be eligible for a raise. Darvas, however, ruled that 1,600 employees of large hotels and airport parking lots in the city of SeaTac, a working-class enclave south of Seattle, are legally covered by the measure.
Proposition 1, which turned SeaTac into the latest battleground over "living wages" and income inequality, was set to take effect Jan. 1. The multimillion-dollar campaign spurred the city of Seattle to begin considering a $15-an-hour minimum wage of its own.
Washington has the highest state minimum wage in the country; it is indexed to inflation and will climb to $9.32 an hour in January from $9.19. California's minimum wage will rise to $9 in July and $10 in 2016. In contrast, the national minimum wage is $7.25.
Although the measure would not affect airline employees, Alaska Airlines is one of the main plaintiffs in the lawsuit seeking to toss out Proposition 1, along with the Washington Restaurant Assn. and Filo Foods, which operates concessions at the Seattle airport.
Supporters of Proposition 1 vowed to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court as soon as possible.
"While we appreciate the judge's affirmation of parts of SeaTac Proposition 1, the voters approved the entire ordinance, not just parts of it," said Yes! For SeaTac, the group promoting the measure, in a statement. "People working at the airport need paid sick days, tip protection, job security and a $15/hour wage to support their families."
The Port of Seattle said in a statement, "Regardless of the ultimate outcome of this lawsuit, the Seattle Port Commission will develop an approach to employment at Sea-Tac Airport consistent with state and federal laws. The erosion of middle-class jobs and increased income disparity are issues of national concern."
A spokesman for Alaska Airlines also acknowledged the problem of income inequality nationwide.
"Alaska Airlines believes in fair pay and benefits for all workers, and we respect every worker and the job they do. We also recognize pay inequality is a serious problem," Alaska spokesman Paul McElroy said. "This lawsuit is not about $15 an hour. It's about an initiative that violates state and federal law."