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L.A. labor leaders agree to delay minimum wage exemption for unions

L.A. labor leaders agree to delay controversial minimum wage exemption for unionized workers

A union official said Thursday night that two prominent Los Angeles labor groups would not oppose the passage of a citywide minimum wage increase that omits an exemption for unionized businesses.

Rusty Hicks, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and a leader of the Raise the Wage Coalition, has been at the center of last-minute debates over the final language of the wage-hike plan the L.A. City Council approved last week. If given final approval as expected, the ordinance would raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2020.

This week, Hicks argued for an addition to the legislation -- which can still be changed pending final approval by the council and Mayor Eric Garcetti -- that would allow businesses whose employees engage in collective bargaining to pay rates below the mandated minimum.

Labor leaders say the exception guarantees workers the flexibility they need in the collective bargaining process, and that some might want to accept a subminimum wage in exchange for better benefits.

Critics assert the exemption is a tool for boosting unions' membership, since business owners who want to avoid higher labor costs can escape the wage requirement if their workers organize.

In a statement Thursday night, Hicks said that the federation and Raise the Wage coalition would support tabling the proposed exemption for unionized workers for further study while the rest of the minimum wage ordinance advances.

"Raise the Wage stands with the City Council and supports the minimum wage ordinance as currently drafted," Hicks said in the statement. "We hope the ordinance moves forward Friday."

The council's Economic Development Committee is scheduled to take up a near-final draft of the law Friday. Key council members, as well as the mayor, said this week the proposed union worker exemption needs more review and shouldn't hold up the ordinance.

Hicks said there are "a number of outstanding issues that are in need of further review" once the wage increase is approved -- including the carve-out for unionized businesses, which he defended.

"This clause preserves and protects basic worker rights and that is why nearly every city in California that has ever passed a minimum wage ordinance has included these protections," he said. "I recognize it needs additional time for debate in front of lawmakers and the public, and I support that."

He added, "I would never do anything to undermine the rights of any worker."

peter.jamison@latimes.com

@petejamison

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