The Port of Seattle Commission meets at noon today, and while there’s no related item on the published agenda (pdf), a birdie tells me that commissioner Courtney Gregoire had been attempting to forge a majority in support of imposing a $15 “total compensation” minimum wage at Sea-Tac Airport and other port properties.
It would mark a dramatic of turn-around for the port, which for years had denied that it has any legal authority to regulate wages at the airport, before embracing the exact opposite legal claim in the immediate wake of the passage of SeaTac’s $15 minimum wage initiative. Last December, King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas upheld most of SeaTac’s minimum wage law, but ruled that state law grants the Port of Seattle exclusive authority over wages on port property. Under this ruling, about 4,700 low-wage employees of contractors, concessionaires, and car rental companies on airport property are currently exempt from SeaTac’s $15 minimum wage ordinance.
Judge Darvas’s ruling is currently being appealed, and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a very clever amicus brief explaining why the lower court’s interpretation of the law is wrong. Attorneys defending the initiative say they are confident they will win on appeal. But attorneys often claim they are confident. We’ll see.
If the port commissioners were to pass a minimum wage proposal today, the timing would be curious, coming just two days before the Washington State Supreme Court is to hear oral arguments in the SeaTac case. Could it be a move to reassure elected justices that airport workers won’t be left untouched by the $15 wave sweeping through the region? Does Gregoire, an attorney, sense a weakness in the port’s current legal position? Is it an attempt by port commissioners to get out ahead of an issue that has clearly left them behind? Or is it a policy decision, pure and simple?
Gregoire did not respond to my emails, so I have no idea.
Either way, a $15 total compensation minimum wage is clearly not the victory the SeaTac initiative backers are hoping for. It would be better than nothing, particularly for part-time workers who might ultimately take home $15 an hour in cash. But no doubt such a proposal wouldn’t include the many other workplace protections included in the SeaTac initiative. And of course, a benefit whose cost is deducted from one’s paycheck is no longer a benefit. It’s an expense. So it’s not really $15 an hour.
Still, the fact that commissioners would even consider imposing a $15 minimum wage, in any form, illustrates just how much and how quickly the political landscape has changed.