Living Wage Ordinance Not Preempted by Airline Law

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

Sept. 21 — Miami-Dade County ordinance that requires companies using a Florida airport to pay workers a “living wage” is not preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held Sept. 21.

Amerijet International Inc., a cargo carrier that does business at Miami International Airport, argued that the federal law prohibits state and county laws related to an air carrier's services. However, the appeals court said Amerijet only handles cargo for other airlines and does not provide a “service” within the meaning of the federal preemption provision.

Judges Adalberto José Jordán, Julie E. Carnes and Richard W. Goldberg joined in the unpublished opinion, which affirmed a lower court's rejection of Amerijet's challenge to the Miami-Dade County ordinance.

Carrier's Challenge to Living Wage Ordinance

According to the decision, Miami-Dade County's ordinance was enacted in 1999. It requires individuals and organizations doing business with the county to pay a “living wage” that is set by the county annually, typically at a level higher than both the federal and state minimum wage rates.

The ordinance covers entities that use the facilities of Miami International Airport. Amerijet filed a lawsuit against the county seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

Amerijet contended that federal law precluded applying the ordinance to air carriers, but the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted summary judgment for the county, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

Federal Act Covers Services to Consumers

Under the Airline Deregulation Act, 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1), states and their political subdivisions are barred from enacting laws “related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier that may provide air transportation” under the federal statute.

“At first glance, it may seem that the ADA's broad scope preempts the application” of the living wage ordinance to Amerijet, which is a federally certified air carrier that performs cargo and ground handling services, but “a closer look reveals something altogether different,” the Eleventh Circuit said.

In Branche v. Airtran Airways, Inc., 342 F.3d 1248, 20 IER Cases 454 (11th Cir. 2003), the appeals court held that the word “services” in the ADA refers to “the elements of air travel that are bargained for by passengers [or shippers] with air carriers.”

The appeals court said the ADA requires that a covered “service” involve a bargained-for exchange between a carrier and consumers. Amerijet does not have such exchanges, the panel said.

Amerijet provides cargo handling services for other airlines, including passenger airlines, which ultimately offer service to consumers, the court said. However, it found that Amerijet's role “is more akin to that of a subcontractor and general contractor” than that of a company providing service to consumers.

“In sum,” the Eleventh Circuit said, “the cargo handling Amerijet performs for other airlines at MIA does not constitute a ‘service' within the meaning of the ADA's preemption provision.”

Ordinance Lacks Significant Impact on Carrier

The court acknowledged that a state law may relate to an ADA-covered service, and be preempted by federal law, if the state law has a “significant impact” on the air carrier's services, but the court concluded that the living wage ordinance before the court “has no such effect.”

The county ordinance does not dictate the services Amerijet must provide or prevent the carrier from offering any service it chooses.

“Because any effect the [ordinance] may have on an air carrier's services would be no more than indirect, remote, and tenuous,” the court said, “we conclude that the ordinance does not have the requisite ‘significant impact' to bring it within the ambit of the ADA's preemption clause.”

Rejecting Amerijet's challenges to the county ordinance, the appeals court affirmed the lower court's granting of summary judgment for Miami-Dade County.

Amerijet was represented by in-house counsel. Miami-Dade County was represented by the county attorney's office.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at

Text of the opinion is available at