(CN) — Colorado river guides working on federal lands will receive minimum wages of $15 per hour this coming season, after a federal judge on Tuesday denied the Colorado River Outfitters Association’s request to be exempt from the Department of Labor’s new rules.
“Plaintiffs have not shown a likelihood that they ultimately will establish that the Biden rule is arbitrary and capricious,” wrote U.S. District of Colorado Chief Judge Philip Brimmer, a George W. Bush appointee.
Duke Bradford, owner of Arkansas Valley Adventure and the Colorado River Outfitters Association, which represents 150 independent operators, sued the U.S. Department of Labor and its Wage & Hour Division this past month over the new wage rules.
The rules at issue are set to take effect on Jan. 30 and require covered federal contracts and holders of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management special-use permits to pay a minimum wage of $15 and $22.50 for work in excess of 40 hours per week.
The river outfitters claim the federal government arbitrarily imposed the new wage rules on outdoor guides, which were exempted under Trump and would render multiday tours through the wilderness unaffordable. Colorado’s minimum wage is currently $12.56 and $9.54 for tipped workers.
With the permits held by Bradford and Arkansas Valley Adventure expiring in April, the court found they demonstrated standing to sue. However the court did not find the same for Colorado River Outfitters Association which did list members with upcoming permit renewals and therefore did not clearly demonstrate “a CROA member will suffer even a dollar of economic harm.”
Under President Barack Obama in 2014, guides and outfitters fell subject to federal minimum wage requirements under a broad rule implementing a $10.10 minimum wage for federal contractors. In 2018, President Donald Trump carved out an exemption for seasonal recreation services including “river running, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, camping, mountaineering activities, recreational ski services, and youth camps.”
While Trump cited the industry’s high turnover rate as a reason to exempt it from the federal wage scheme, Biden instead saw high turnover as a reason to enforce higher wage requirements on federal lands. After revoking Trump’s order, in 2021 Biden implemented the $15 minimum wage and overtime requirement.
All three presidential orders invoked the Procurement Act, a move which the river guides called an overreach of power.
But Brimmer found nothing unusual about Biden’s use of the Procurement Act.
“President Obama’s and President Trump’s executive orders and rules are historical precedent for President Biden using the Procurement Act similarly,” Brimmer wrote in the 47-page opinion.
Rather than overhaul the whole scheme, Brimmer also found the Department of Labor implemented the Biden rules with other Trump-era rules that were unchanged.
“Plaintiffs are mistaken in their claim that the Biden rule ‘blows past [DOL’s] own prior rulemaking’ and that DOL promulgated the Biden rule with ‘mere silence,'” Brimmer continued.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Caleb Kruckenberg of the Pacific Legal Foundation said his clients intend to appeal.
“The court’s ruling allowing the new rule to take effect, trusts the president with an alarming amount of power and lets him set nationwide wage rules on the thinnest of pretexts,” Kruckenberg said in an email. “This rule, and this ruling will hurt hardworking entrepreneurs, limit the availability of work for their guides and threatens to make access to the outdoors unaffordable for all but the richest people.”
Moving forward, the case has been assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Scott T. Varholak. A scheduling conference will be held in March.