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SEIU Support for Minimum Wage Hikes Based on Self-Interest

Why is the Service Employees International Union funneling $15 million into the Fight for 15 campaign when the average private-sector union member makes $22 an hour and only 1 percent of the American workforce earns the minimum wage?

Union rhetoric would tell you that they support wage hikes as a means to preserve the middle class and to lift low-wage workers out of poverty.

However, what many do not realize is that unions’ self-interest is the primary motivation for their support of wage hikes, not altruism or concern for the well-being of low-wage workers.

Minimum and living wage laws benefit union interests in one of two ways.

First, many state and local wage laws exempt union contracts from the new, higher wage standard. These exemptions strictly serve union self-interest by making non-union labor more expensive, thereby making union labor more competitive.

For example, the heavily publicized SeaTac (a suburb of Seattle, Washington) $15 dollar per hour living wage, enacted on January 1, 2014, included a waiver that relieved unionized employers from the wage increase and sick leave mandate.

In 2014, the Los Angeles, California, City Council passed a living wage ordinance that requires large hotels to pay employees $15.37 an hour. Tucked away in the 10-page law is a section that declares, “All of the provisions of this article, or any part of the article, may be waived in a bona fide collective bargaining agreement.”

And union exemptions are not randomly included to such laws. Unions use their massive political influence to secure these waivers and then abuse the special privilege.

The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported as much regarding a recently passed living wage law in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that applied to Milwaukee County employees and contractors.

Aaron Rodriquez, journalist at the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, interviewed Sally Sprenger, who runs a company that helps the elderly and disabled, and contracts with the County. “Sprenger said SEIU guaranteed her an exemption from paying the County’s wage hike if she agreed to deduct union dues from all of her employees’ paychecks.”

Besides using the exemption to gain dues paying members, SEIU is credited with writing the Milwaukee living wage ordinance. Sprenger said, “SEIU told me they wrote the living wage ordinance and that they singled out only the companies they represented.”

In addition, “Supervisor Jim ‘Luigi’ Schmitt told the Red Fox blog in December that SEIU worked on 16 different drafts on the living wage ordinance in collaboration with Supervisor David Bowen.”

Second, exemptions are not the only way that wage hikes are advantageous to unions. Many collective bargaining agreements tie union member wages to increases in the minimum wage.

For example, a SEIU Local 1877 contract reads, “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Agreement, employees shall make at least 30 cents per hour over California or Federal minimum wage rates.” Another SEIU contract requires “minimum hourly wage rates shall exceed any statutory applicable minimum wage rate by fifty cents.”

Clearly, SEIU and other unions support minimum and living wage increases, just not for the benevolent reasons they claim.