No, employers with a unionized workforce should not be allowed to pay less than Los Angeles’ proposed minimum wage. It’s stunning that after leading the fight for a $15 citywide minimum wage and vehemently opposing efforts to exempt restaurant workers, nonprofits and small businesses from the full wage hike, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor is now lobbying for an exemption for employers with union contracts. That’s right — labor leaders are advocating that an employer should have the right to pay union members less than the minimum wage.
This is hypocrisy at its worst, and it plays into the cynical view that the federation is more interested in unionizing companies and boosting its rolls of dues-paying members than in helping poor workers. Such an exemption would create an incentive for companies to allow unions in — but rather than helping workers, it would undermine the purpose of the minimum wage ordinance, which is to set a new, higher pay floor in order to help lift the greatest number of low-wage Angelenos out of poverty.
Rusty Hicks, the head of the federation of labor, released a statement saying that businesses and employees should have the freedom under collective bargaining agreements to negotiate lower pay in exchange for other priorities, such as better benefits or improved working conditions. But business owners had also argued for flexibility in the minimum wage ordinance, including, for example, being credited for providing health insurance, and they were rejected. Why? Because the City Council decided to draft a proposal — at the insistence of Hicks and other labor activists — that did not include exceptions or sub-minimum wages for any employees. That was the right decision.
Now, the federation of labor argues that the exemption for union contracts is standard language in minimum wage laws passed by California cities. Failure to include it, the federation says, could make L.A. vulnerable to legal challenges under federal labor law that guarantees private-sector employees the right to collective bargaining. But neither the federal nor the state minimum wage includes an exception for collective bargaining, and cities such as Seattle and Washington have passed ordinances that do not include the organized labor carve-out.
L.A. leaders shouldn’t let any special interest undermine the proposed ordinance, and no employees should be left behind.