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The LA Minimum Wage Has a New Adversary.... Unions

by Tige Richardson, published

Earlier this year, the City of Los Angeles decided to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Los Angeles has become the latest and largest city to raise the minimum wage in recent years. Hikes in minimum wage are typically pushed by progressive groups; however, some labor organizations have been leading an effort to exempt unionized workers from the new wage increases.

Wait, what? I thought unions were pro worker.

You are right, but many labor organizations are also very concerned about political status.

The cynical argument goes something like this: if unions can offer sub minimum wage jobs then more businesses would choose to employ a union workforce as a cost-saving alternative. Meanwhile, the unions are able to grow the number of due paying members and thus their political capital.

So unions are just acting in their own self interest instead of the workers they represent?

Sort of.

The labor leaders that are leading the fight for an exemption claim that it's a protection from potential litigation they claim could come from a challenge that the minimum wage violates the National Labor Relations Act by intruding on the collective bargaining process.

Is that a legitimate argument? Probably not.

For one, the Supreme Court has held that "labor standards" do not interfere with workers' rights to unionize. History also shows that the exemptions do not decrease the probability of litigation.

In fact, when a group of Los Angeles hotels went to federal court over the city's mandate to increase the wages of large hotel workers, they cited the measure's labor exemption as one way the law was in conflict with federal labor laws.

Ah ha, so it's all just about self interest then, right?

Not exactly.

First, not all union shops are seeking exemption from the new mandate. Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW, told the Los Angeles Times that "I don't think we help ourselves by taking positions where we don't hold ourselves to the same standards as everybody else."

Second, many union leaders have said that the more accurate reason unions are seeking exemptions is because having a high minimum wage decreases their position at the negotiating table. If employers are covering higher wages, other benefits come off the table.

So what am I to make of this?

Well, you are your own person; I can't make a decision for you. I would lean toward what SEIU leader David Rolf said to the LA Times,  "A wage is a wage is a wage.....It's very hard to justify why you'd want any worker to make less than the minimum wage."

Read the full report from the LA Times here.

Photo Credit: James Woods / Twitter

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