Seattle’s minimum wage battle

By: Maryam Nayibova

Seattle passed a law to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour just last year, but it has already seen some major backlash from employers in the area. Just recently Alaska Airlines, a company based in Seattle, has filed for a motion asking the Supreme Court of Washington to reconsider its earlier decision that the minimum wage raise applied to SeaTac (Seattle Tacoma International Airport) workers.[1] The fight to raise the minimum wage has been going on for a few years, and given the fact that Seattle has been one of the few major cities to commit to such a drastic hourly wage change, it has been no surprise that there is ongoing litigation.[2] The $15 wage law was approved last spring, but lawmakers gave businesses almost a year to prepare for the higher costs.[3] Since then, there have been some major lawsuits, either trying to fight the minimum wage point blank or some other aspects of the decision in Seattle alone.

Overturning the lower court’s decision, the Supreme Court in Alaska Airlines stated that there was “no showing that this law would interfere with airport operations.”[4] Alaska Airlines is not the only party attempting to exclude airport workers from wage raise (others are Washington Restaurant Association and Airport Concessionaires, Filo Foods and BF Foods).[5] The parties claim that Proposition 1 (the state legislature on minimum wage raise) interferes with Federal Labor Laws and that the court wrongly gave Port of Seattle jurisdiction over the airport.[6] The main point of their argument is that the minimum wage raise would interfere with airport operations. [7]

This by no means has been the first (or the last) challenge to Seattle’s Proposition 1, and the claims tend to be very diverse. For example, in Intern. Franchise Assoc. et al. v. City of Seattle et al., the plaintiffs claimed that Seattle’s law requiring franchises to begin paying workers a $15 minimum wage sooner than independent businesses is discriminatory.[8] IFA, and five other franchises (including McDonalds) jumped on the bandwagon and sued the city of Seattle claiming the mandatory minimum wage raise violated the Fourteenth Amendment.[9] Now let’s refresh our memory of constitutional law. The Fourteenth Amendment states, “no state is allowed to “deny any person…the equal protection of the laws.”[10] The franchise owners claimed that raising the minimum wage at a faster rate for franchise businesses, which are considered “large” for the purpose of the ordinance, than for other “smaller” non-franchised businesses, puts them at a disadvantage and violates the Fourteenth Amendment.[11]

The good news is that the minimum wage raise is spreading rapidly towards the neighboring states. Since the Seattle ordinance applies to any employee who works in Seattle, regardless of whether the business is actually located, states like Oregon and California are already feeling the pressure to follow suit, especially since employers in those states have business located in Seattle.[12] Just recently Oregon proposed to raise its minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2018.[13] In 2014, California followed the example and proposed a minimum wage raise to $13 an hour over the next two years.[14] This year, the city of Berkley proposed a minimum wage raise of $19 an hour, over the next five years, just to meet the living wage rate for the city.[15] Looks like all is not lost in the battle to raise the country’s minimum wage to a livable standard. Here’s to hoping.

[1] Janet I. Tu, Alaska Air Asks Court to Reconsider Minimum-Wage Ruling, The Seattle Times (Sept. 9, 2015), http://www.seattletimes.com/business/economy/alaska-air-asks-court-to-reconsider-minimum-wage-ruling/.

[2] Gene Balk, $15 wage makes many cities affordable, but not Seattle, The Seattle Times (Mar. 31, 2015), http://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/15-wage-would-make-big-difference-to-renters-across-us.

[3] Office of the Mayor, $15 Minimum Wage, http://murray.seattle.gov/minimumwage/#sthash.dabwy3oq.lidhwpme.dpbshttp://murray.seattle.gov/minimumwage/#sthash.dabwy3oq.dpbs (last visited Sept. 24, 2015).

[4] Tu, supra note 1.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Intl. Fran. Ass’n, Inc. v. City of Seattle, C14-848 RAJ, 2015 WL 1221490, at *1 (W.D. Wash. Mar. 17, 2015).

[9] Gene Johnson, Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage – USA’s highest – challenged, USA Today (Jun. 2014), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/11/seattle-minimum-wage-15-challenge/10344443/.

[10] U.S. CONST. amend. XIV, § 1.

[11] Johnson, supra note 10.

[12] Office of the Mayor, supra note 5.

[13] Janet I. Tu, Franchises: Seattle’s minimum wage discriminates, The Seattle Times (Mar. 10, 2015), http://www.seattletimes.com/business/economy/franchises-say-seattles-minimum-wage-discriminates-against-them-2/.

[14] Alexei Koseff, Bill to Raise California Minimum Wage Stalls in Assembly, The Sacramento Bee (Aug. 27, 2015), http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article32591325.html.

[15] Claire Zillman, This City Just Proposed the Highest Minimum Wage in America, Fortune (Sept. 15, 2015), http://fortune.com/2015/09/15/nations-highest-minimum-wage-berkley/.

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