Los Angeles Unions Now Fighting Against $15 Minimum Wage

Here’s some sad, surprising news from Los Angeles: after helping support the fight for a $15/hr minimum wage, LA unions are now requesting that the $15 minimum wage not apply to certain types of employees.

From the LA Times:

But Rusty Hicks, who heads the county Federation of Labor and helps lead the Raise the Wage coalition, said Tuesday night that companies with workers represented by unions should have leeway to negotiate a wage below that mandated by the law.

“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,” Hicks said in a statement. “This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing.”

Now, I’ve seen a lot of headlines that describe this as a movement of “Union Leaders” or “Labor Leaders,” but I have yet to see a story that mentions another leader beside Hicks. To be fair, Hicks is, as NPR puts it, “the new head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which represents over 300 unions.” So maybe he speaks for the unions the way the Lorax speaks for the trees.

Why is Hicks fighting for lower wages? To protect LA union employees who might otherwise lose their jobs. Slate sums it up this way:

To be clear, this is almost surely an implicit acknowledgment by the unions that there are at least some local industries in Los Angeles, such as apparel manufacturing, where $15 per hour is too high a minimum, and workers might prefer to accept lower pay in order to keep their jobs. Otherwise, there would be no point in pushing for it. No rational employee would choose to organize and accept a lower paycheck — plus pay union dues — unless they really, truly thought their job was being imperiled by their wage.

So why is $15 an hour too high? Because profits? Because stakeholders? I know that CEO wages aren’t the real reason why apparel manufacturing companies believe $15 an hour is too high a minimum wage, but I have to do the old thing of cattily mentioning that, according to the LA Times, Los Angeles-based American Apparel CEO Paula Schneider earns $600,000/year, plus “an annual incentive award, between 50% and 75% of that base.” She’s also entitled to earn other bonuses, such as an extra $100,000 for writing a new operational plan. (When I last worked in an office, nobody got bonused for writing the strat plan. I think we got a pizza.)

So, okay, fine, I knew somebody was going to hold a calculator up to the Los Angeles $15 minimum wage at some point and figure out all the places where the math didn’t work out. But is that just how it has to be? Is “we can’t promise you a living wage, but we’ll try to make sure you have a job” the best our unions can offer, these days?

Photo credit: Antti T. Nissinen

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