Labor Loophole Coming Soon to Santa Monica?

Thursday, September 24, 2015,10:04 pm

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor was widely-ridiculed for its attempt to exempt union members covered by collective bargaining agreements from the $15 minimum wage it had championed for the city. As the Los Angeles Times wrote in a scathing editorial: 

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. … 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.

After drawing national condemnation, even from staunch allies of the labor movement, you’d think that Federation head Rusty Hicks would have learned his lesson. You’d be wrong.

This Tuesday, at the encouragement of Mr. Hicks and his labor allies, the Santa Monica City Council will consider an ordinance to create a citywide minimum wage of $15 an hour. Sure enough, tucked away on page 8 of the proposed ordinance is a loophole that exempts collective bargaining agreements from the wage requirement:

CBA waiver

It’s worth remembering that these union carve-outs are so controversial that not even other union bosses will defend them. Mr. Hicks’ counterpart in Kansas City, for instance, argued that what’s good for goose is good for the gander: “If it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do for all working people.”

The real reason for the collective bargaining opt-out, as mentioned by the Times in its editorial, is that it provides labor unions with a useful carrot & stick tool in organizing drives, to encourage employers to play along. David Rolf of the SEIU, who was responsible for pushing the $15 minimum wage ordinance in SeaTac, described it this way in a radio interview:

Host: Was that (the union waiver) included as a way of trying to incentivize employers to accept unions in their workplaces?

Rolf: We always want to offer an olive branch and a high road approach to employers of conscience who would prefer to have direct and honest dealings across the bargaining table with a union that their employees vote for. So, yes, we hope that amongst the several unions that are active in the airport economy — such as SEIU Local 6, Unite Here Local 8, Teamsters Local 117, and UFCW Local 21 — that if workers choose to join those unions, we want to, you know, facilitate and encourage productive, bilateral collective bargaining agreements.

When he says “facilitate and encourage,” what Rolf means is that he wants to use the minimum wage to make unionization the less painful of two options. It may be smart business for unions seeking new dues-paying members, but it makes their support of the Fight for $15 a self-serving decision rather than an honorable one.

The labor movement in Los Angeles County received a major dent in its halo when it fought for (and lost) a union loophole in the city’s minimum wage law. It’s hard to believe that they’re back at it again in Santa Monica.