Ellensburg court to hear minimum wage challenge

senior writer Daily Record

December 16, 2010

ELLENSBURG, WA - Kittitas County Superior Court Judge Scott Sparks on Dec. 29 will hear arguments in the action challenging the state's 2011 increase in the minimum wage.

The hearing in the county courthouse before Sparks is set for 9:30 a.m.

The Kittitas County Farm Bureau and four statewide industry and business groups are appealing a planned Jan. 1 increase in the state's minimum wage sought by the state Department of Labor and Industries.

The groups have called on the court to consider a summary judgment in the matter.

In court filings, the groups contend the court is asked to decide between two legal arguments: one indicating state law should allow an increase, the other interpreting state law to show an increase starting Jan. 1 is not warranted.

Going up?

The state L & I Department, along with its director, Judy Schurke, say a state law passed by voters allows the minimum wage to go up 12 cents per hour starting Jan. 1, making the wage $8.67 per hour.

The state's minimum wage is currently the highest of all states. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

The other groups joining in the challenge are the Washington State Farm Bureau Federation, the Washington Restaurant Association, the Washington Retail Association and the Washington Food Industry Association.

"While not essential to the resolution of this case, the defendant's (Department of Labor and Industries) decision makes the hopes of economic recovery even more illusive," the challenging groups stated in legal filings.

The groups contend a September legal opinion by the state Attorney General's Office should be followed by the L & I Department.

The opinion stated that the guidelines of voter-approved Initiative 688, and recent economic indicators, show the wage should not increase.

The L & I Department disagrees, saying its legal interpretation shows it should go up.


A spokeswoman for L & I, Elaine Fischer, said the department's legal review was thorough and clearly supports a 12 cent increase, from $8.55 per hour to $8.67 per hour.

According to legal filings, L & I also asks the court to throw out the challenge on several grounds, including lack of legal standing by the groups to make the appeal and improper service of the legal challenge to L & I representatives.

The state agency, through its attorney, also claims the groups haven't exhausted other legal remedies before filing a court action.

The agency contends Kittitas County Superior Court is not the correct legal venue for such a legal action.

The groups' legal arguments contain testimony from farm bureau members and business owners Richard Haberman, Richard Anderson and Mark Charlton.

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