New Minimum Wage Law under Fire in Seattle, Legal Advocacy Groups Say Workers’ Rights Are at Stake

Free Speech For People, Courage Campaign, Equal Justice Society, and Demos jointly file brief in this minimum wage case.

SEATTLE, WA -- Seattle’s living wage law should be upheld against claims by the International Franchise Association and other industry trade groups that it violates alleged rights of corporations under the U.S. Constitution, Free Speech For People, Courage Campaign, Equal Justice Society, and Demos argue in an amicus brief filed today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In International Franchise Association v. City of Seattle, franchised businesses allege that Seattle’s living wage law violates their alleged constitutional rights. They argue that, because the law’s implementation schedule treats franchised businesses as “large” businesses (which must pay the full $15/hour wage in 2018) rather than “small” businesses (which have until 2025 to comply), it discriminates against them in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the laws.

The amicus brief cites primary historical materials showing that the authors of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment (which includes the guarantee of equal protection) were deeply concerned about whether newly-freed slaves could earn “fair, living wages.” This legislative history indicates that Seattle’s living wage law (which has enormous positive impact on racial minorities) fulfills, rather than violates, the Fourteenth Amendment. The amicus brief also points out the absurdity of the franchise businesses’ claim that Seattle’s law was motivated by hostility (“animus”) against franchises. The brief notes that the companies cite legal precedents involving discrimination harming food stamp recipients, when many franchise workers are forced to rely on food stamps because of low wages.

"By helping the city’s low-income workers, who are disproportionately African American, Seattle’s minimum wage law fulfills the intent and spirit of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equality,” says Eva Paterson, the President and Co-Founder of the Equal Justice Society. 

“The International Franchise Association’s claim against the city of Seattle for discrimination is, frankly, bizarre. This new ‘corporate civil rights movement’ is twisting the Constitution,” says Ron Fein, the Legal Director of Free Speech For People.

“Employees of restaurant franchises are some of the lowest-paid workers in the country, and now their bosses are trying to turn the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause on its head—all in the name of continuing to pay poverty wages for a few more years,” says Brenda Wright, the Vice President of Legal Strategies at Demos. 

“The plaintiffs have no legal basis to pursue their claim against Seattle's minimum wage law. It is absurd and dangerous to twist the Equal Protection Clause into an argument for corporate relief at the expense of protecting workers' rights to fair, living wages,” says Dr. Paul Song, the Executive Chairman of Courage Campaign, “The Courage Campaign joins this amicus brief to stand on the side of the 14th Amendment and the human interests it was intended to protect.”

“This case is just another example of major corporations making fabricated claims of constitutional rights to try to strike down public interest laws and undermine the promise of American self-government,” says John Bonifaz, the President and Co-Founder of Free Speech For People.  “Corporations are not people.  They are artificial creatures of the state, and we govern over them, not the other way around.”

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Free Speech For People works to challenge the misuse of corporate power and restore democracy to the people. Learn more at: http://freespeechforpeople.org/

Demos is a public policy organization working for an America where everyone has an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy.  Learn more at: http://www.demos.org/

Courage Campaign fights for a more progressive California and country. It is powered by more than 900,000 online member activists. Learn more at: https://www.couragecampaign.org/

The Equal Justice Society is transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts. Learn more at: http://equaljusticesociety.org/