Seattle’s minimum-wage law kicks in April 1, but the largest employer in the city — the University of Washington — isn’t bumping up pay for its lowest-paid workers then, and it’s unclear whether it will have to follow the new law.

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Seattle’s minimum-wage law kicks in next week, but the largest employer within the city isn’t bumping up pay for its lowest-paid workers then — and says it’s unclear whether it must do so in the future.

The University of Washington contends it falls into a gray area, along with other public entities.

The law the City Council passed last year begins by raising the minimum wage at large employers with more than 500 workers to $11 an hour on April 1. Those employers must pay $15 an hour by 2017 (or 2018 if the organization provides medical benefits).

Seattle’s minimum-wage law

Large employers (501+ employees): Starting April 1, must pay their minimum-wage workers $11/hour. Will reach $15 by 2017. Large business­­es that provide health-care benefits will have until 2018 to reach $15.

Small employers (500 or fewer employees): Must pay “minimum compensation.” Starting April 1, two ways of reaching minimum compensation: 1) pay a flat hourly rate of $11 or 2) pay a reduced rate of $10 an hour with the $1 difference made up in tips or payments to a qualifying medical-benefits plan. If the tips or medical-benefits payments do not make up the difference, the employer must do so each pay period. Small employers paying a flat hourly rate will reach $15 by 2019. Those who choose the second option will pay $15 by 2021.

For more information:

Source: city of Seattle

But whether a city can set wages for the UW, the state community colleges, Seattle Public Schools, King County, the Port of Seattle and other public entities is still up for debate.

Some of those agencies have already decided to follow the law’s timeline for pay increases, but the UW hasn’t.

“I don’t want to say we’re in limbo, but we’re in limbo,” said UW spokesman Norm Arkans. “We’re waiting for some direction from Olympia. … At some point, someone’s going to say: ‘We don’t think you’re subject.’ Or: ‘We think you’re subject.’ ”

The issue is one the state Supreme Court is weighing as it considers whether the city of SeaTac, which passed its own $15 minimum-wage law in 2013, has the power to dictate pay at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is owned and operated by the Port of Seattle.

Oral arguments in that case took place last June; no date has been set for the decision.

The state Attorney General’s Office says it can’t comment on the university’s position because “we have provided legal advice to our clients, and that advice is attorney-client privileged information.”

The city hasn’t addressed the issue in its rules governing the nitty-gritty of the minimum-wage law, “given the lack of legal clarity,” said Karina Bull, policy analyst and business liaison with the city office that oversees the law’s implementation. “We’re awaiting what the state Supreme Court says on that,” she said.

Bull added that “if we receive a complaint from a worker at a public employer, we will work with that governmental body to address that worker’s concern.”

At one point, the proposed law included language specifically exempting other governmental entities. But that wording was later taken out in the interests of moving the legislation forward, according to Jason Kelly, a spokesman for the mayor’s office.

Kelly added that, according to the city attorney’s office, “it appears that the city is pre-empted from dictating wages paid by the federal government, the school district and possibly the University of Washington.”

To be sure, not many UW workers would be affected by the first wage bump in the city’s law.

The UW, which has some 30,000 workers spread across its Seattle campus, the UW Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center and campuses in Tacoma and Bothell, employs only about 70 workers who make less than $11 an hour. That figure excludes undergraduate student employees.

If the Legislature approves the UW’s already negotiated contracts with its unions, the minimum wage for full-time UW employees will rise to $12 in July.

But the UW has not committed to following the city’s timetable for wage increases up to $15.

That doesn’t seem right to Jonathan McCollum, who makes a bit over $14 an hour running the Red Square BBQ truck at the UW’s Seattle campus.

“The UW is very visible in Seattle. We’re a big part of what the city is,” said McCollum, a board member of Washington Federation of State Employees Local 1488, which covers the UW. About 800 of the union local’s members make less than $15.

“To have this big chunk of the population that works for this iconic institution not be making what the people have decided is a living wage in this city is not right,” McCollum said.

The UW estimates that over the course of a year, it employs at least 3,200 workers (not including undergrads) who make less than $15 an hour. Bumping up their wages would take a minimum $3.8 million.

If undergraduates are included, as well as salary adjustments to make supervisors’ pay rise in relation to their minimum-wage workers’ pay, the UW estimates some 16,600 workers would be affected, at a cost of some $22.5 million.

If the UW is indeed covered under the city law, also complicating matters is whether student workers are included, and whether the law covers participants in federal, state or institutional work-study programs — each of which have different wage requirements.

While Seattle’s minimum-wage law specifically exempts work-study students, the state said this week that all its Seattle-based positions must be paid according to the city’s minimum-wage law. That’s because the state-funded work-study program requires participants to be paid comparably to non-student employees in the same positions.

There are about a dozen state-funded work-study students at the UW, Arkans said.

“Students are double hit. We’re making poverty wages and paying higher and higher tuition,” said Garrett Strain, a first-year graduate student in the UW’s Evans School of Public Affairs and a member of a student group pushing for better working conditions. “The UW is the single largest employer in the city of Seattle and they should be required to pay minimum wage like anybody else.”

UW spokesman Arkans said “nothing’s going to happen for now” because the university is in the middle of the life-cycle of several contracts negotiated with unions.

“You can’t go and change the contracts,” Arkans said. “That aside, we want to pay our people well. The will is there. You have to have the funding to do it.”

Unlike the UW, Seattle’s community colleges and public schools will be raising wages in accordance with the law’s timeline, as will King County.

The state-funded community colleges in Seattle will increase pay next month for approximately 1,000 workers (including student workers) who currently make less than $11 an hour. It will also follow the city’s schedule in raising wages for an additional 800 workers who make less than $15.

“The Seattle College District, as a state agency, is not subject to the requirements of the city of Seattle minimum-pay ordinance,” said Maria Lamarca Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Seattle College District, which includes North Seattle, South Seattle and Seattle Central Colleges and Seattle Vocational Institute.

But the district is following the city’s schedule for pay increases because it “supports the city’s goal to offer workers a path toward earning a livable wage for their labor, since that goal is clearly aligned with the district’s mission to equip its students with the education and training needed to be more competitive in our job market.”

On April 1, Seattle Public Schools also will raise pay for those employees making less than $11.

“Simply put, it’s the law, and we believe it applies to SPS so we are abiding by it,” said public-schools spokeswoman Stacy Howard.

King County has about 60 workers who make less than $11 an hour. All are youths being trained in basic work skills and are exempt from the city’s minimum-wage law.

In addition, the county has 91 employees who make less than $15 an hour — either interns, trainees or short-term recreation-program assistants, said Jason Argo, a spokesman for King County’s human-resources division.

Those employees’ wages will increase in accordance with a living-wage ordinance passed by the county last October that follows the city’s timeline for pay increases through 2017.

The Port of Seattle, meanwhile, says all its employees in Seattle already make more than $15 an hour.