State, federal and local law may all play a role in the Washington Supreme Court’s decision on whether a new $15-minimum-wage law in SeaTac applies to airport workers, if the questions asked by justices during oral arguments on Thursday are any indication.
They asked such a broad variety of questions that the lawyers barely had time to push the court in one direction or another during the hourlong hearing. The lawyers already had flooded the court’s inbox with numerous briefs, so the justices had a good idea of how the attorneys wanted them to rule.
The justices seemed interested in the jurisdictional debate the lawyers presented. But they also wanted to talk about conflicts within the new SeaTac law, modern interpretations of old language in state statutes, and whether state rules would allow the airport to set its own minimum wage.
The Supreme Court hearing is the latest development in the debate over the minimum wage in Washington, which already has the nation’s highest state minimum wage at $9.32 an hour.
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The Seattle City Council voted early this month to gradually raise the minimum wage in Washington’s largest city to $15 an hour. That case is also being fought in the courts.
Questions asked during the Supreme Court hearing included:
• Does the Port of Seattle, which runs Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, have exclusive jurisdiction over the airport and what does exclusive jurisdiction mean?
• Who can set minimum wages under the state’s minimum-wage law? Does the Port of Seattle have any authority under that statute?
• Would the new SeaTac law, which goes well beyond setting a new minimum wage, potentially interfere with the Port’s management of the airport? How could this interference be measured?
• Does the SeaTac law do too much and, if so, what parts of the law should be allowed and what parts should be stopped by the court? Can the court pick and choose which elements of the law to keep?
• Do any other state or federal laws conflict with the SeaTac ordinance?
When Justice Debra Stephens asked whether there was any problem with the way the signatures were counted before the minimum-wage initiative got on the SeaTac ballot, Dimitri Iglitzin, attorney for the SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs, which pushed for the law, asked her why she posed the question.
But Iglitzin added that it’s up to the justices what issues they take up on a case that could have far-reaching implications.
Attorney Harry Korrell, representing the group of companies that sued to stop the minimum-wage ordinance from going into effect, took issue with Iglitzin’s argument that the court can’t find the statute interferes with airport operations because there would be no proof it has done so.
“That would be a mess,” Korrell said of trying out the new law to see its impact. “They are trying to create some nebulous, fact-based standard.”
He spent a large part of his presentation talking about how broad the SeaTac law is and said the court should strike down the law, in contrast to a lower-court ruling that the law applied to workers in the city of SeaTac, but not at the airport.