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Oppose Union Exemptions to the $15 Minimum Wage

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Head in Hands

I discussed this request of unions for minimum wage exemptions some last spring, but the issue hasn’t gone away:

Los Angeles city council will hear a proposal on Tuesday to exempt union members from a $15 an hour minimum wage that the unions themselves have spent years fighting for.

The proposal for the exemption was first introduced last year, after the Los Angeles city council passed a bill that would see the city’s minimum wage increase to $15 by 2020. After drawing criticism last year, the proposed amendment was put on hold but is now up for consideration once again.

Union leaders argue the amendment would give businesses and unions the freedom to negotiate better agreements, which might include lower wages but could make up the difference in other benefits such as healthcare. They argue that such exemptions might make businesses more open to unionization.

Because the California governor, Jerry Brown, signed a law raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022, workers who are part of the union would see their wages increase eventually – potentially two years later than those who are not part of union.

I recently laid out a sort of moral compass for people on the left supporting union positions. Fundamentally, the question is whether organized labor supports a position that leads to greater human justice. Usually, it does. Sometimes, it does not. This is an example of the latter. Yes, the $15 minimum wage does create some inconveniences for some low-wage worker unions like UFCW and UNITE-HERE because they have negotiated agreements with sub-$15 wages but with other benefits. Raising everyone to $15 means a shrinkage or elimination of promotional differentials, for instance.

But organized labor simply cannot support a position that undermines its own membership. The argument that businesses might be more favorable to unionization if they can pay union workers lower pages is, to say the least, is wrongheaded. First, no they won’t, because unions are about power on the job as much as about money for members. Second, why would people join unions if they are going to make less money? Sure, you could explain the benefits, voice on the job, etc., but no one will join a union if they will make less money than non-union workers. It’s insane to think otherwise.

There is no good reason for organized labor to support exemptions to the $15 minimum wage. It makes them look incompetent and foolish.

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