By Eric Peterson
Politics is a funny business – one that is all too often defined by the inconsistency, contradiction and hypocrisy of politicians and special interest groups. An example of-this-do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do phenomenon is currently on display in California, a perpetual poster child for political dysfunction. The saga began in May 2015 when the Los Angeles city council rubber-stamped a job-killing, minimum wage hike to $15 per hour by a vote of 14 to 1. Similar artificially inflated wage mandates have been enacted in cities like Seattle and San Francisco, and with negative consequences. Businesses are closing up shop and workers now face greater difficulty in securing entry level positions. Yet rather than learning from these experiences, politicians in the City of Angels chose to embrace this counterproductive policy.
Leading the charge in Los Angeles and indeed nationally for higher minimum wages have been labor unions such as the AFL-CIO, the SEIU, and a variety of local groups. Unions benefit immensely from higher mandated minimum wages since negotiated union wages often use the minimum wage as a baseline. And higher mandated wages means more money flowing into union coffers. Thus, it’s hardly shocking that Big Labor has made raising the minimum wage a top priority both locally and nationally. That’s why it came as a bit of a shock this week when Los Angeles County Federation of Labor boss Rusty Hicks called for a special union exemption from Los Angeles’ heavy-handed $15 minimum wage. What’s his reasoning? “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. This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing.”
At first glance, Mr. Hicks’ statement appears to be more appropriate for The Onion than the generally fact-based LA Times. That’s because mandating a high minimum wage actually prevents individuals and business owners for from reaching an agreement that works best for them. Whether that means initially being paid less while a worker develops new skills that pay off down the line, or more modest wages for increased flexibility or benefits. Union backed minimum wage requirements limit many of those options – a concern echoed by Mr. Hicks’ irony-soaked statement. Yet instead of freeing all workers from this destructive mandate, Mr. Hicks wants a special, sweet heart carve out just for unions, putting individuals who choose not to join a union at a competitive disadvantage.
Of course, this is hardly the first time unions have fought tooth and nail for a big government mandate only to then demand special exemptions. After cheerleading for approval of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, unions immediately sought a special exemption from Obamacare’s steep fees. These fees that unions complained were unfordable and hurt them, the same way President Obama’s failed health-care law has hurt millions of Americans.
Policymakers should take note of unions’ history of claiming a new mandate or regulation is good policy – only to immediately seek an exemption from the damaging impacts of that very policy. Rather than setting one standard their political friends and supporters, and another for the rest of us, lawmakers should pursue policies that increase prosperity for all working Americans.