Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled (5-4) that the unprecedented experiment that is the outrageously high $15 minimum wage applies to Sea-Tac International Airport. The ruling is a reversal of a King County Superior Court judge’s ruling, and sides with big labor and $15 minimum wage activists who filed the appeal.
SeaTac’s $15 minimum wage law—the first in the nation—has benefitted 1,600 workers employed at hotels, restaurants, rental car agencies, etc. that surround the airport. Absent another appeal, the new wage will go into effect for an estimated 4,700 airport workers. The impact of the immediate wage boost is, of course, unclear—that’s what makes this particular experiment so very dangerous.
What is clear is the state Supreme Court—notably a liberal activist court—“flexed its ideological muscle to reach what appears to be a predetermined conclusion in favor of $15.” The Seattle Times’ editorial board explains,
“To reach it, the court had to rule on whether a SeaTac wage law was applicable to the airport, which is owned and managed by a different municipal jurisdiction — the Port of Seattle.
“The majority opinion authored by Justice Susan Owens, interpreted a state law that awards the Port ‘exclusive jurisdiction and control’ over the airport to be ambiguous — although a plain reading of the law suggests it is unambiguous. Justice Debra Stephens noted that dissonance in a dissenting opinion signed by four justices.”
According to the Times, the activist court justified its decision by going so far as to wade into the micromanagement of the airport. The majority opinion states that the $15 minimum wage would have no effect on “airport operations.” Of course, it’s unclear how the five justices who signed the opinion could possible know that. As the Times puts it,
“Other impacts of the $15 experiment — particularly Seattle’s more gradual rise in the wage floor — are as clear as mud. Despite cheerleading from labor and advocates, it is too early to weigh the ultimate consequences of a huge increase that won’t fully take effect in Seattle until 2019.”
The court’s decision was certainly met with approval by current Democrat state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. During his speech at the Washington State Labor Council’s (WSLC) 2015 convention in SeaTac, Ferguson stated his and—by extent—his office’s support of the $15 minimum wage. Ferguson stated,
“We are also making important progress on something of great importance… What happened right after we have those great [$15 minimum wage] successes? Lawsuits were filed challenging the legality of those $15 minimum wages. And the issue of the SeaTac minimum wage is already up before the state Supreme Court.
“My office, again, joined in support of the at $15 minimum wage. I put my top lawyers on the case. We filed a brief with the state Supreme Court. We’re waiting for a decision, but I’m optimistic that the $15 minimum wage will be upheld by our court. We will continue to fight the fight.”
But, the court’s ruling may not be the final word—no matter how long Ferguson plans to “continue the fight.” Former Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna recently told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz that there is a possibility that “a change in the evidence or facts on the ground would cause the courts to take another look at it.” That’s because, once the experiment has played out a little and hard numbers exist on record, “employers could return to the courts and argue that the minimum wage is hurting them.”
Evidence of the $15 minimum wage’s negative impact should not be all that hard to come by. From higher costs to business closures to employees cutting back hours in order to stay on government subsidies, the unintended—and negative—consequences have not been lacking in the risky experiment that is the $15 minimum wage.
The ugly reality is why the Economist issued a warning against higher minimum wages. The magazine referred to them as a “reckless wager.” The Economist,
“By moving towards sharply higher minimum wages, policymakers are accelerating into a fog. Little is known about the long-run effects of modest minimum wages… And nobody knows what big rises will do, at any time horizon. It is reckless to assume that because low minimum wages have seemed harmless, much larger ones must be, too.
“One danger is that a high minimum wage will push some workers out of the labour force for good. A building worker who loses his job in a recession can expect to find a new one when the economy picks up. A cashier with few skills who, following the introduction of a high minimum wage, becomes permanently more expensive than a self-service checkout machine will have no such luck… That is why Milton Friedman described minimum wages as a form of discrimination against the low-skilled…
“The irony is that minimum wages are a bad way to combat poverty. The Congressional Budget Office reckons that only one-fifth of the income benefits go to those beneath the poverty line…
“What is more, a minimum wage is not free. Someone must pay. The common refrain that companies will shoulder the burden is the product of hope rather than evidence. If the cost is passed on to consumers, the minimum wage turns into a subsidy funded by a sales tax—a revenue-raiser that, again, falls heavily on the poor.”
Unfortunately, the state Supreme Court has decided to apply the “reckless wager” to airport facilities under the jurisdiction of the Port of Seattle.