Many workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport have been receiving the $15 minimum wage since an August state Supreme Court decision, but four employer plaintiffs are now asking a lower court for a new “fact-finding process.”
There’s some good news and bad news for workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport who’ve been looking for a bump up to $15 in minimum wage for the last two years.
The good news: Most, since August, have been getting paid $15.24 an hour, according to an attorney for the group that backed the minimum-wage law.
The bad news: The legal wrangling over whether the minimum-wage law should apply at the airport has gained new life. And those seeking back pay for the higher minimum-wage amount have had to go to court for it.
Alaska Airlines and three other plaintiffs asked King County Superior Court on Tuesday to hear evidence on whether the city of SeaTac’s minimum-wage law interferes with airport operations.
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Meanwhile, a former employee of Alamo Rent A Car at the airport filed a class-action lawsuit last month, seeking back pay for the difference in the increased minimum-wage amount dating back to Jan. 1, 2014.
The city’s Proposition 1, which raised the minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers to $15 an hour, went into effect Jan. 1, 2014. (Because SeaTac’s minimum wage is adjusted yearly for inflation, the current minimum, as of Jan. 1 this year, is $15.24.)
Alaska Airlines, the Washington Restaurant Association, Filo Foods and BF Foods filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s power to dictate pay at Sea-Tac Airport, which is owned and operated by the Port of Seattle.
That lawsuit resulted in a December 2013 ruling by King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas that the law couldn’t be enforced at the airport due to a decades-old state law giving the Port exclusive jurisdiction over all airport operations.
SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs, the group that backed Proposition 1, and the city of SeaTac appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court.
In August, the high court reversed Darvas’ ruling, saying the minimum-wage law applies to hospitality and transportation workers at the airport as well, because there had “been no showing that this law would interfere with airport operations.”
Last month, the court reaffirmed that decision by declining a request by Alaska Airlines and others to reconsider its ruling.
Tuesday’s motion by Alaska and the three other plaintiffs says that the Superior Court judge heard only legal arguments about whether the airport could be regulated by the city in which it’s located, not about whether a minimum-wage law would impact airport operations.
“We believe that the trial court judge should hold a fact-finding process so she can ultimately decide whether the ordinance interferes with or relates to airport operations,” Herman Wacker, general counsel for Alaska Airlines, said in a statement.
Charlotte Garden, associate professor of law at Seattle University School of Law, called the motion “a longshot,” adding that based on the state Supreme Court’s opinion, “I see very little wiggle room for the argument the plaintiffs are trying to make.”
The lawsuit over back pay, filed in King County Superior Court by former Alamo Rent A Car employee Bruce Toering, seeks to represent past and present employees of EAN Holdings, which operates Alamo as well as Enterprise National Car Rental.
The suit says they are entitled to a minimum $15 an hour dating back to Jan. 1, 2014, when the law went into effect, and $15.24 an hour since Jan 1, 2015.
Most transportation and hospitality employers at the airport started paying $15.24 in August, when the state Supreme Court issued its decision, said Dmitri Iglitzin, Toering’s attorney. A few holdouts started paying in November after the Supreme Court declined to reconsider its decision, Iglitzin added.
Since August, EAN Holdings has been paying its workers the $15.24 minimum, said Christy Cavallini, spokeswoman for Enterprise Holdings.
As for back pay, Cavallini said Enterprise is waiting to see the result of Alaska Airlines’ motion filed Tuesday.
“When that is resolved, we will follow the court’s ruling,” she said.