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Wash. High Court To Hear Appeal In SeaTac Minimum Wage Lawsuit

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Ashley Gross
/
KPLU
Supporters of SeaTac's $15 minimum wage packed a city council meeting last year

It’s been almost six months since some transportation and hospitality workers in the city of SeaTac got a raise to $15 an hour, but ground crew workers at the airport haven’t received that raise because of a county judge’s ruling.

Later this week, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the workers should, in fact, get the higher pay rate. 

The Services Employees International Union and other labor groups sponsored Proposition 1 in SeaTac last year, and voters passed it by a narrow margin. One of their main aims was to elevate working conditions at the airport, especially for people tasked with often overlooked jobs like handling baggage and pushing wheelchairs.

But Alaska Airlines and some other businesses sued to block it, and a King County judge ruled that the ordinance does not apply at the airport since it is controlled by the Port of Seattle, not the city of SeaTac.

Should City Wage Laws Apply?

In a state Supreme Court hearing this Thursday, the sponsors of Proposition 1 will argue that the ruling was flawed. Heather Weiner, a spokeswoman for SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs, says the city’s higher minimum wage should apply at the airport because it doesn’t interfere with actual operations there.

"There’s nothing in what the voters approved in Prop. 1 that has anything to do with airplanes taking off or landing," she said. "It’s not as if the city of SeaTac all of a sudden said, 'We’re going to put a mall in the middle of the runway."'

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a brief in support of the initiative sponsors, saying the airport workers should get the higher wage.

About 4,700 people stand to earn more if the Supreme Court justices side with them, and Weiner says since the higher wage went into effect in January, the workers have lost out on a total of $15 million.

Alaska Airlines and the other plaintiffs say the law is clear in stating the Port of Seattle has exclusive jurisdiction at the airport.

The port has been working on its own plan to address wages and working conditions but hasn’t released a proposal yet. In May, Alaska Airlines announced that it has boosted starting pay to $12 an hour for workers who handle bags, refuel planes and clean cabins.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.
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