Labor unions are known for advocating aggressively for their members and for seeking out the highest pay rates and best benefit packages for their members. Interestingly, however, California’s labor leaders have proposed to exempt unionized workers from Los Angeles’ new minimum wage law – a city ordinance that aims to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. Union leaders have been steady backers of minimum wage hikes across California and other states, and in many cases have explicitly and specifically argued against waivers or exemptions for other groups, including nonprofits and small businesses.

Some labor union organizers have argued that imposition of a minimum wage on organized workers would violate the National Labor Relations Act, the legal basis for unionized collective bargaining agreements. They argue that a waiver for organized workers would simply align Los Angeles’ ordinance with federal labor law. Some labor lawyers are not convinced by this argument however, and see a higher minimum wage as simply setting a higher starting bargaining position for unionized workers.

Why would labor unions want organized workers to be exempted from minimum wages?

Since many labor unions have been at the forefront of minimum wage hike fights in cities across California and the United States, many are left to wonder why they support the hike, but at the same time want a waiver from the rule for organized workers.

Some experts believe that organized labor is requesting waivers from the minimum wage hike in order to drive up unionization across California. If unionized employers were exempt from paying the higher minimum wages, then the unions could effectively tell business owners, especially those likely to hire minimum wage workers like those in the service industry, that if they allow their workers to unionize, the employer will save substantially on payroll by being allowed to pay the unionized workers lower than the legal minimum wage. This may seem like a win-win for employers and unions alike, as unions would benefit from higher member numbers, equally higher dues paid and employers would benefit from being able to retain workers and pay them a lower minimum wage.

San Diego, which raised its minimum wage recently, did not include an exemption or waiver for organized workers; however, the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, Long Beach and San Jose (among others) have all allowed a minimum wage waiver for organized workers in recently passed minimum wage hikes. Waivers or exemptions for organized workers are not limited to California: they have been included in minimum wage laws in Washington state and Chicago, Illinois.

It’s well known that union membership across the country has been dwindling in the past several decades. Could aggressively advocating for minimum wage hikes containing exemptions for organized workers really boost union membership across the country?

What do you think of waivers or exemptions to the minimum wage for organized workers? Tell us in the comments below.