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Issaquah Law Group - Injury Litigation Attorneys

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WA Supreme Court: Seatac Bound by $15 minimum wage; Workers protected from retaliation

The Port of Seattle v. SeaTac Committee for Good Jobs

This case stems from the City of SeaTac analog to Seattle's minimum wage ordinance. The ordinance sets the minimum wage within SeaTac to $15 per hour (for hospitality and transportation). The Seattle Tacoma International Airport, from which the City gets its name, had argued the ordinance did not apply to it because the airport itself is under the jurisdiction of the Port of Seattle. The trial judge agreed. The judge also determined that federal law on worker retaliation pre-empted state law, which would allow some types of retaliation against workers. So what did the supreme court do?

We hold that Proposition 1 can be enforced at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport because there is no indication that it will interfere with airport operations. We also hold that federal labor law does not preempt the provision protecting workers from retaliation. We otherwise affirm the trial court and thus uphold Proposition 1 in its entirety.

So where did this stem from, these two arguments. The statute regarding the Port of Seattle's jurisdiction comes from RCW 14.08.330. The statute grants "exclusive jurisdiction and control" to the port, but then talks about things like police jurisdiction and taxes. "[R]eading the statute's two sentences together, it is unclear what the legislature intended to grant the Port of Seattle 'exclusive jurisdiction and control' over." They point out that if you read the sentence talking about specifics, that sentence would be meaningless if the first sentence covered everything. "By saying that municipalities in which airports are located may not charge license fees or occupation taxes, the legislature implied that there are matters that municipalities can regulate."

So you then have to look to what powers The Port has, and they have to be for the purpose of the district: "all needed rules, regulations, and ordinances for the management, government, and use of any properties under [the municipality's] control." The question then becomes whether the SeaTac minimum wage ordinance affects rules that are needed for governing the Airport. General welfare falls outside of that, according to the Court: "Here, Proposition 1 has nothing to do with airport operations or the subject of aeronautics."

I tend to disagree a bit on this. The wages of the workers operating in the industry can definitely affect the operation. Just because they don't aren't directly involved in aeronautics does not mean their work does not impact airport operations. Its a bit of a misnomer to claim that there is no intersection between the general welfare of all workers in the city and the wage of certain workers at the airport as it relates to operations. Operations have expenses, one of the largest is the wages of the operational employees.

Perhaps the best argument (and which should have been the lead-off in the analysis) is that the Port still remains subordinate to state laws, including the Washington Minimum Wage Act. The statute itself allows for municipal regulation as to the Port's of the minimum wage and requires those laws still be in full effect. Keep it simple, don't engage in verbal parrying with a steak knife when you have nice piece of ammunition like this. That said, I've never met a court that did not prefer verbal parrying.

Regarding the federal pre-emption and retaliation, the argument was that the National Labor Relations Act and Airline Deregulation Act preempted. The NLRA does not have a pre-emption clause, but has case law creating some preemption. States are prevented from regulating activity the NLRA even arguably protects or prohibits. States also can't regulate in certain areas of the NLRA with regard to the invisible economic hand. The argument was that the wage and protection afforded by the statute were also typically issues found in the collective bargaining agreements. I'll just point out though, that if this were the case, wage could never be left to the States. Similar clauses have already been litigated in this area, however, and rejected the arguments put forth. They also argued that because the clause allowed an opt-out through collective bargaining, it was violative. However, this clause actually seems to comport with the idea that collective bargaining trumps and would place it into the preemption. That's essentially what the Supreme Court of the United States said in 1987:

The fact that the parties are free to devise their own severance pay arrangements, however, strengthens the case that the statute works no intrusion on collective bargaining. . . . If a statute that permits no collective bargaining on a subject escapes NLRA pre-emption, see Metropolitan Life, surely one that permits such bargaining cannot be pre-empted.

The rest of the opinion attempts to pick away at specific pieces of the legislation, to no avail.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in both Seattle and SeaTac. It will either be a boon to the poverty-stricken and create jobs as Keynesian economics boon or a bust.


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