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The $15 Minimum Wage - An Issue with Momentum


February 5, 2014 by Flannary Collins
Category: Minimum Wage

Note: Due to the 2016 voters’ passage of Initiative 1433, the state minimum wage is currently $11.00 per hour. Beginning January 1, 2018, it will rise to $11.50 per hour. In 2019, it will increase to $12.00, and finally in 2020 to $13.50 per hour.

Some of the current fervor for a $15 minimum wage can be traced to the City of SeaTac, which made national headlines after a majority of its voters approved a citizen’s initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour for employees working for specified transportation and hospitality employers in the city. (See the city's web page on the new law.) A lawsuit challenging the measure blunted its effect but failed to overturn it. This is an issue that certainly won't go away.

After approval of the initiative by the voters, Alaska Airlines, Filo Foods, and others swiftly filed a challenge in King County Superior Court. The court issued its ruling on December 27, 2013 that, most significantly, held that the $15 minimum wage could not lawfully apply to airport employees (approximately 4,700 people), but could lawfully apply to non-airport hospitality and transportation employees within SeaTac (approximately 1,600 people). Applying RCW 14.08.330, the court concluded that “airport facilities and operations are ‘under the exclusive jurisdiction and control’ of the Port of Seattle, subject to ‘federal and state laws, rules, and regulations’ but not subject to the laws, rules, and regulations of SeaTac or other municipalities.” (Emphasis in original.) Supporters of the SeaTac $15 minimum wage are seeking direct review by the Washington State Supreme Court.

Since July 24, 2009, the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour, although many states have set a higher level (see state minimum wage rates), with Washington State currently leading the way with a $9.32 an hour wage. Georgia and Wyoming have the lowest rates, $5.15 an hour, but those rates are preempted by the federal minimum wage that applies to employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (most employees). Governor Jay Inslee has suggested the Washington State minimum wage should be somewhere between $10.82 and $11.82 cents an hour, and HB 2672 has been introduced in the state House of Representatives calling for a phased-in minimum wage of $12 an hour. And President Obama has called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage.

Cities, in addition to SeaTac, have also been getting into the act. Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant was elected in November on a platform calling for a city-wide $15 minimum wage, and newly-elected Mayor Ed Murray has directed department directors to develop an implementation plan for a $15 minimum wage for City of Seattle employees.

This clearly is an issue that has momentum. Stay tuned for more!


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Flannary Collins

Flannary Collins is the Managing Attorney for MRSC. She first joined the organization as a legal consultant in August 2013 after working for ten years as the assistant city attorney for the city of Shoreline. At MRSC, Flannary enjoys providing legal guidance to municipalities through inquiry assistance and in-person trainings on municipal issues, with a heavy emphasis on the Public Records Act.

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