The Washington State Farm Bureau and a coalition of business groups filed a lawsuit last week in Kittitas County, seeking to overturn a 12-cents-per-hour increase next year. The Department of Labor and Industries ordered the hourly wage increase to $8.67 and it takes effect Jan. 1.
L&I and the Attorney General's Office are now looking to hire a special assistant attorney general to handle the lawsuit, because AG Rob McKenna's staff earlier issued an opinion that the state did not need to raise the wage.
The 28-page suit relies in part on McKenna's staff opinion that said Initiative 688 – which Washington voters approved in 1998 to tie the wage to yearly increases in the Consumer Price Index – did not require an increase for 2011. That is because the CPI fell in 2009, and it has not risen above its previous peak in 2008. [Updated to include link to lawsuit.]
But the Department of Labor and Industries had a different interpretation, believing that the law calls for an increase if the CPI goes up, which it has this year. In effect, the agency believes that if the consumer price index goes up the wage goes up – and it doesn’t matter that the CPI is not yet back to the level it was in 2008.
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"This is one of those very rare situations where we will use a special assistant attorney general on contract. We are working on getting that in place," said Elaine Fischer, spokeswoman for the L&I. "This is just a case where there are two really good legal arguments running up against each other. We went with one that we felt was best and now it will be for the court to decide."
Fischer also said: "As long as it’s not resolved, the new minimum wage takes effect Jan. 1. We haven't had any reason to believe any different course will be taken there."
The Farm Bureau said this in a news release:
The plaintiff in the suit is the Kittitas County Farm Bureau. The coalition includes the state Farm Bureau, the Washington Restaurant Association, the Washington Retail Association, and the Washington Food Industry Association.
The AG's opinion is here.
Update: We'll have a short print story on this tomorrow. Updates correct typo in one of Fischer's statements and adds links to the lawsuit.