Should Union Employees be Exempt Under Minimum Wage Requirements?

There has been a lot of talk about the minimum wage lately, both nationally and locally. And now with Los Angeles joining the likes of Seattle, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and Richmond in pursuing a $15.00/hour floor, the debate is beginning to narrow down to specifics. Foremost of these concerns is whether or not union employees should be exempt from the new wage requirements, a move oddly enough being proposed by Los Angeles union leaders.

Now each of these cities has adopted different types of restrictions and ways of quantifying what exactly goes into a minimum wage. For instance, Seattle counts the tips earned by restaurant employees toward their total wage while San Francisco, who has had a local minimum wage on the books since 2003, does not. Seattle has also decided to include the value of employee benefits in its calculations as well. But none of these restrictions has been met with the kind of backlash that the union exemption has.

When the proposal was announced last week by union leaders, including Rusty Hicks, leader of the County Federation of Labor, it was immediately met with charges of hypocrisy. The L.A. Times editorial board released this scathing piece calling the move “stunning”, and “hypocrisy at its worst”.

The problem, as these columnists are quick to point out, is that the same Los Angeles labor organizations who fought against including health care benefits and exempting restaurant workers from the newly adopted minimum wage (provisions that would give business owners greater flexibility in complying with the new law) are now fighting for a special interest provision that would allow business owners to pay union laborers less than the minimum, allowing unionized businesses the same flexibility they denied to other businesses. In a sense, this would create a built-in financial incentive to hire union employees over non-union precisely because you don’t have to pay them minimum wage.

And they weren’t subtle about their intentions either, as Rusty Hicks states in his own L.A. Times article:

“With a collective bargaining agreement, a business owner and the employees negotiate an agreement that works for them both. The agreement allows each party to prioritize what is important to them,” Hicks said in a statement. “This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing.”

And that is exactly what labor leaders intend to do – force businesses who cannot afford to pay the minimum wage to unionize, expanding union rolls in Los Angeles in a way they could otherwise never achieve, through the market.

Other columnists, such as the left-leaning Jordan Weissman of Slate, have applauded the move. They argue that the minimum wage is only necessary because collective bargaining is not as widespread in the U.S., and thus anything that makes collective bargaining easier to adopt is a good thing. He stated in his most recent article:

“Rather than counting on strong collective bargaining rights to ensure livable and economically appropriate wages, L.A. would partly be relying on a high pay floor to spread collective bargaining rights, which in the end might actually be more important.”

Now if you think this is isolated to Los Angeles you would be wrong. Leaders in San Francisco and Berkeley are watching this debate closely, as are statewide organizations, because what happens in L.A. will undoubtably be replicated by other unions. Keep in mind that the Services Employers International Union (SEIU), is the organization leading the charge for a 2016 ballot measure to increase the minimum wage to $15.00/hour statewide. A union exemption, should it pass in Los Angeles during Wednesday’s council meeting, is likely to be included.

Should California adopt a statewide minimum wage of $15.00/hour? If so, how should that be counted, and are there any employee groups that should be excluded, like restaurant and agricultural workers? Should there be a built in exemption for unionized worker, so as to further spread collective bargaining rights? Vote and comment below:

Increase the California Minimum Wage to $15.00 an Hour

Currently the California minimum wage is $9.00/hour, and is set to increase to $10.00/hour come 2016. This initiative would expand this existing increase schedule for 4 more years, increasing the minimum wage a dollar a year from 2016-2021, meaning that California would have a $15.00/hour minimum wage by 2021. This initiative does not include any exemptions as of now, but will be updated as the statewide ballot measure continues to progress.



 

Exempt Union Workers from L.A.’s Minimum Wage Requirements

Los Angeles is poised to adopt a $15.00/hour minimum wage, joining the likes of Seattle and San Francisco in adopting the highest minimum wage in the country. However, union leaders want to exempt businesses with unionized workforces from having to pay at that level, saying that collective bargaining already allows them the freedom to negotiate openly, and therefore a minimum wage is not needed.



 

2 Comments

  1. obrianlocke says:

    This leaves a very bad taste in my mouth… Unions were fighting for increased pay because (as they put it) everyone deserves a living wage and workers are worth more than they were being paid. I’m a strong liberal, but I firmly oppose this move. If someone’s work is worth $11 then they get paid $11. If unions are going to be greedy in this sense, maybe I take back my support for them. To me, this smells quite a bit like the move a corporation would make. I’m disappointed.

  2. obrianlocke says:

    Reblogged this on cornerofpolitics and commented:
    This leaves a very bad taste in my mouth… Unions were fighting for increased pay because (as they put it) everyone deserves a living wage and workers are worth more than they were being paid. I’m a strong liberal, but I firmly oppose this move. If someone’s work is worth $11 then they get paid $11. If unions are going to be greedy in this sense, maybe I take back my support for them. To me, this smells quite a bit like the move a corporation would make. I’m disappointed.

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