The Port of Seattle has finalized a minimum wage for 3,500 airfield support workers at Sea-Tac Airport.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, the Port will require airlines and contractors to pay airfield workers $13.72 an hour in wages and benefits or $11.22 an hour not counting benefits. In 2017, the wages increase to $15.50 per hour.
Other airports, including Los Angeles, Oakland and St. Louis, have living-wage laws ranging from $11 to $16 an hour.
Labor activists call it a “throw-away” policy that offers workers less than what city of SeaTac voters passed in November of 2013. Voters passed a $15-an-hour minimum wage for people working at Sea-Tac Airport and in hotels, parking lots, rental car companies and restaurants attached to the airport or hotels.
That law is in dispute in the Washington Supreme Court, which will determine whether the voter-approved law applies to the airport, which is in the city of SeaTac but under the jurisdiction of the Port of Seattle.
The Port’s minimum wage policy, finalized in late July, falls far short of what voters already approved, said Heather Weiner, spokesperson for Yes for SeaTac, a labor-backed organization that supported passing the SeaTac minimum wage.
“We don’t have much to say about it except too little, too late,” she said.
The Washington Supreme Court will determine which minimum wage applies to airfield workers: The Port’s proposal for 3,500 employees that hits $15.50 in 2017, or the voter initiative that sets an immediate $15-an-hour minimum wage for all 14,500 employees who work at the airport.
The Port’s law is limited to a subset of employees. The Port can’t set an across-the-board minimum wage for all employees working on Port property because it does not have “general police powers,” said Port Commissioner Courtney Gregoire.
So while the Port of Seattle contends in court that it has jurisdiction over Sea-Tac Airport, it concedes in policy that it has no power to set a minimum wage itself.
Gregoire defended the policy, stating that it will improve the lives of workers while striking a balance between pressure from labor activists and businesses.
“Not all airlines are embracing our policy, and not all of our friends at labor are embracing our policy either,” Gregoire said.
SeaTac’s minimum wage law has faced legal opposition from the beginning. Alaska Airlines and Filo Foods fought the initiative before it went to voters, disputing the language of the law and many of the signatures proponents collected to put it on the ballot.
Proponents prevailed, and voters passed the law by just 77 votes Nov. 5.
Alaska Airlines and Filo Foods sued again after the law passed, putting the law on hold for workers at the airport. As a result, only 1,600 workers at 11 hotels and two large parking lots in SeaTac received a raise on Jan. 1.
The Washington Supreme Court typically makes a decision three months after oral arguments, which took place July 2. If the judges agree that the law applies, businesses at Sea-Tac Airport will have to pay workers $15 an hour plus back pay, because the law went into effect Jan. 1.