Admittedly, as a management-side labor and employment lawyer, I am not always a big fan of the unions. And a recent story in the LA Times just reinforced my negative attitude.
As many of you know, increasing the minimum wage has been a hot political issue, and labor unions have been strong and outspoken advocates of such increases. This was the case in Los Angeles, whose City Council last week approved a city-wide minimum wage increase to (a whopping!) $15 an hour by 2020 (a 67% increase!!!). As the authors of the LA Times article point out, during the months preceding the City Council vote, labor activists opposed special considerations for certain businesses, like restaurants, that argued they would have trouble complying with such an increase.
But now, labor leaders in LA are seeking last-minute changes to the law to permit companies with unionized workforces to negotiate a lower wage! Let’s contemplate that for a moment, shall we? The same folks who insist that employees need – deserve – are entitled to – a wage rate that would supposedly enable them to survive above the poverty level are willing to throw their own people under the bus!
In announcing the minimum wage increase on the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor’s website on May 20, the head of the Federation, Rusty Hicks, stated:
We are one step closer to making history in Los Angeles by adopting a comprehensive minimum wage policy that will change the lives of hundreds of thousands of hard-working Angelenos. The City Council’s action today creates a path for workers to succeed and gives our economy the boost it needs to grow.
Apparently, those same hard-working Angelenos should not include union members. In a separate May 26 statement in support of the modification of the law, quoted by the LA Times, Mr. Hicks then said:
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….This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing.
There was an outcry in the media regarding this apparent hypocrisy. Some commentators, like Tim Worstall at forbes.com, note the self-serving nature of the sought-after modification. They suggest that this modification will cause employers to agree to unionization, in order to avoid paying the higher minimum wage. And of course, more union members means more union membership fees in the union’s coffers.
This near universal public derision led to yet another statement on May 28 by Mr. Hicks entitled “Let’s Get Something Straight,” in which he indirectly references the issue by accusing business interests of seizing any “half-truth, out-of-context quote or outright lie to misguide the public” in an attempt to “tank” the increase. He also contends that the labor coalition was “surprised” to see that the minimum wage law lacked any protection for worker rights (i.e. deferral to collective bargaining agreements) that exist in other such legislation. (How’s the view from the soapbox, Mr. Hicks?) But at this point, Mr. Hicks and the rest of the labor leaders are apparently willing to table consideration of this modification until a later time. Stay tuned.