Experts and studies on both sides of the minimum wage debate have offered a long list of pros and cons when it comes to raising the minimum wage. What is generally agreed on, though, is that significant enough increases are likely to cause job loss. Calculations on how much or how little usually depend on the study. Even the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that much to be true.
“Most of them would receive higher pay that would increase,” stated a 2014 CBO report. “But some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated.”
Supporters of the $15 minimum wage often argue that it’s more representative of “the living wage” which is the supposed basic standard by which someone can live comfortably. Labor unions have been at the forefront of pushing for such a living wage. They are also the main contributor to groups behind the living wage movement like Fight for $15. The group is heavily endorsed and influenced by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Nevertheless, unions and other advocates often get caught doing the opposite of what they are fighting so hard to achieve.
1.) Unions Want To Be Exempt
In late May, minimum wage advocates got a huge victory. The Los Angeles City Council voted 14 to 1 on a tentative agreement to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020. Despite advocating for the wage increase, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor asked for an exemption for unionized businesses.
Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer for the union, argued that though he supports the increase, allowing exemptions will ultimately help workers. Hicks quickly made national headlines for being at the forefront of pushing for the new minimum wage while wanting to be exempt from it.
2.) Unions Eat Their Own To Avoid Bad Press
When Hicks made national headlines, many union leaders across the country denounced him. They argued such an exemption would go against what the labor movement’s ethos. What they didn’t mention, however, is that it’s not an unusual practice for unions to seek and get exemptions from minimum wage increases. The only real difference is Hicks just so happened to attract national attention.
“Not all minimum wage increases come in the same form,” a December report for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce noted. “Some local ordinances in particular include an exemption for employers that enter into a collective bargaining agreement with a union.”
The report argued that these sort of “escape clauses” are often designed to encourage unionization because they make membership a low-cost alternative for employers. This discrepancy, the report notes, raises questions about who these minimum wage laws are actually meant to help.
3.) Get Paid $12 To Fight For 15
It started with a simple Facebook comment. In June Cody McLaughlin replied to a job posting on Facebook for Working America. The group was hiring field recruiters as part of its campaign to get a $15 minimum wage. When he asked if they paid $15 the group said they could offer him $12.25 per hour
“Hi Cody! Our field organizing positions start at $12.25 per hour,” Working America reportedly answered. The group was quick to caveat, “After 90 days of employment the pay increases to $15 per hour.”
Not long after, the comment began attracting attention so the group deleted it. That was when McLaughlin felt the line was crossed. To him, deleting the comment only served to hurt the dialogue.
4.) At Least The Socialists Have An Excuse
It’s a consensus among living wage advocates that $15 is the right amount. Some groups, though, aren’t afraid to go much higher. The Freedom Socialist Party strongly believes the minimum wage should be $20 an hour. The group is also avid supporters of expanding and restoring welfare and social programs. Despite all that, in 2014 the group was caught offering a job that paid just $13 an hour. Doug Barnes, the party’s national secretary, said it was because the group was reliant on donations.
“We’re practicing what we’re preaching in terms of continuing to fight for the minimum wage,” Barnes told The Huffington Post at the time. “But we can’t pay a lot more than $13.”
It was that very reason nonprofits in Los Angeles also have reported problems after the city raised its minimum wage. The city increase, however, didn’t include exemptions for nonprofits or other groups reliant on being able to pay low wages.
Despite needing it for themselves, the Freedom Socialist Party has opposed exemptions for organizations like nonprofits. The group Socialist Alternative proposed allowing nonprofits and small businesses to adjust more slowly to the $15 minimum wage increase in Seattle. The Freedom Socialist Party, however, called the idea a way to “dodge” the real issues undermining nonprofits.
5.) Not This Socialist Though
Democratic presidential hopeful and self-described socialist Bernie Sanders has been one of the more vocal lawmakers in support of the living wage. He has even introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. This despite the fact he only pays his own interns $12 per hour.
Similarly, a 2014 analysis from the Employment Policies Institute (EPI) showed 96 percent of the House and Senate sponsors of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 do not pay their interns at all.
6.) It’s Better Than No Pay
Sanders is not the only living wage advocate saving some money with cheap interns. In the case of President Barack Obama’s own Organizing for Action (OFA), the advocacy group pays its interns nothing. This despite the president himself wanting a $10.10 minimum wage.
“OFA is now accepting applications for full-time and part-time HQ Interns for the Spring 2014 and Summer 2014 HQ Internship Programs in Chicago, IL,” a job posting listed on its website stated. “This is a 14-week, unpaid internship program.”
Unpaid internships often don’t receive the same scrutiny as other types of positions when it comes to pay. This despite the fact they’re paid much less, as in not at all. The reason often given is internships are not meant as jobs but to provide experience to those new to the workforce. This reasoning, however, has been applied to low paid positions as well. In fact, as shown by the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), low paid positions have a proven track record of providing experience to workers.
“Of those workers making the minimum wage today, two-thirds will be earning a higher wage one year from now,” an IPI report by Naomi Lopez Bauman stated. “Most workers, once they learn the job and demonstrate a level of competence, will earn more as the value of their labor increases to their current employer or a competing one.”
7.) The Living Wage Or Just A Random Number
A video released back in December shows that the $15 minimum wage may actually not be representative of anything. Kendall Fells, an SEIU organizer, during a union panel meeting discussed how the union arrived at the figure.
“That’s where people decided that $15 made sense, I would say it was a pretty scientific process, $10 was too low and $20 was too high, so we landed at 15,” Fells said.
8.) Don’t You Dare Raise Your Wages Voluntarily
Unions argue the end goal is to get workers fair wages. That way they don’t have to struggle to get by on a daily basis. That is, however, until they aren’t involved in the wage increases. With increased public pressure, in the first few months of 2015 many big companies figured out ways to raise pay for their employees. This included McDonald’s, Gap, Walmart, Target, and TJ Maxx among others. Unions, though, were not at all happy about it.
“Make no mistake, McDonald’s didn’t wake up one day and just decide to raise wages for its workers,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, declared in a statement. “The raising wages movement is about more than a dollar an hour increase.”
Despite its criticism and not being involved in the decision, the AFL-CIO did find a way to take credit anyways.
“This decision – just like Walmart, Target and the momentum of major retailers that preceded it,” Trumka continued. “McDonald’s workers and their courage to go on strike in the Fight for 15 campaign is an inspiration in the effort to raise wages across the country.”
9.) Who Is The Minimum Wage Really Meant To Help?
Unions claim their involvement in the minimum wage debate is to help workers. Despite conflicting studies on how much it actually does. What unions tend to leave out is that they also are likely to benefit from raising the minimum wage.
The SEIU has been criticized by some, like Worker Center Watch (WCW), for using the Fight for $15 protests as a way of bypassing labor laws to more easily unionize fast food workers. Additionally, according to a report from Union Facts, a minimum wage increase would benefit the SEIU directly while hurting non-unionized SEIU competitors.
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