Los Angeles union leader Rusty Hicks encouraged Long Beach to go ahead with adopting a higher minimum wage Monday – just months after advocating unions should be exempt.
“The Raise the Wage coalition supports the decision by Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and the Long Beach City Council,” Hicks said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the City of Long Beach to replicate the model set in Los Angeles.”
In response to the national push to adopt a $15 minimum wage, Long Beach city leaders are now considering their own proposal. The city announced Monday that it is looking into whether to initiate a study of the potential impact such an increase would have.
“Almost 40 percent of Long Beach workers earn less than $15,” Hicks said. “A higher minimum wage in Long Beach will complement other cities’ efforts and make a huge impact on working families in the Southern California region, by lifting them out of poverty.”
Long Beach officials cited Los Angeles in their decision. The adjacent city voted in May to increase its own minimum wage. Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, quickly made national headlines when he asked for unionized workers to be exempt. This despite him leading the coalition behind getting the measure passed. He has argued the exemption would help workers.
“This clause preserves and protects basic worker rights and that is why nearly every city in California that has ever passed a minimum wage ordinance has included these protections,” Hicks said back in May. “I would never do anything to undermine the rights of any worker.”
Even other union leaders criticized Hicks for wanting an exemption while continuing to advocate for a higher minimum wage. David Rolf, president of Local 775 of the Service Employees International Union, questioned the justification behind the request.
“At this point in our history, we have to be very careful to send the message that we stand up for all workers,” Rolf told the Los Angeles Times. “A wage is a wage is a wage. It’s very hard to justify why you’d want any worker to make less than the minimum wage.”
Despite this, it is not at all unusual for unions to opt out of laws which raise the minimum wage. According to a report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last December, many labor unions are exempt from the various local minimum wage laws they support.
“Not all minimum wage increases come in the same form,” the report notes. “Some local ordinances in particular include an exemption for employers that enter into a collective bargaining agreement with a union.”
The report explains how these “escape clauses” are often designed to encourage unionization because they make membership a low-cost alternative for employers. This raises questions about who these minimum wage laws are actually meant to help, according to the report.
It is not yet clear whether Hicks will get the exemption. The Los Angeles measure is currently on hold and is awaiting a referendum.
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