Union Support for Minimum and Living Wage Laws Based on Self-Interest

Across the country, labor unions advocate for increases in the minimum wage, along with proposals to create “living wage” laws. Unions publicly argue that these wage laws are imperative to preserve the middle class and lifting 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 increases to the minimum wage and implementation of living wages, not to enhance the prosperity of low-wage workers.

Unions benefit from new minimum wage increases and living wage laws in two main ways.

First, numerous union negotiated collective bargaining agreements (CBA) tie union member wages to increases in the minimum and living wage. Center for Union Facts research uncovers a number of these contracts. In addition, many CBAs include provisions that reopen contract negotiations whenever there is a change to the federal or state minimum wage.

Second, it is important to note that several recent minimum and living wage laws allow for the new wage standard to be waived in a union contract. This exemption came to light during the SeaTac (a suburb of Seattle, Washington) $15 dollar per hour living wage ballot measure, which allowed for unionized employers to be exempt from the new wage increases and sick leave mandate.

Union exemptions from living wage laws give unions an unfair bargaining chip that is unavailable to individual workers attempting to negotiate their own pay and benefits.

The latest example of unions taking advantage of these exemptions is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the Service Employee International Union is already abusing the recently enacted living wage law to extort concessions from an employer. According to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel journalist Aaron Rodriquez:

“The “living wage” ordinance may have passed the Milwaukee County Board just last week, but that didn’t stop the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) from using the newly minted mandate to strong arm a local contractor in December.


Sally Sprenger runs Supportive Home Care Options Inc, a firm that contracts with the County’s Family Care program, which helps elderly and disabled populations.

In a phone interview, 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.


Sprenger’s situation adds to the mounting evidence that the “living wage” law is mainly designed to boost union coffers, not help low-income workers.”


Further, Sprenger estimates that with the implementation of automitic union dues deduction that SEIU stands to gain an additional $300,000 in dues a year.

Further, Watchdog.org report highlights the fact that the SEIU helped Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen write the living wage law:

Bowen, endorsed by the SEIU Wisconsin State Council in his 2012 election, worked with labor union representatives on about 15 drafts and met with them several times in his office at the county courthouse, County Supervisor James “Luigi” Schmitt confirmed.


“SEIU, they’ve been lockstep with it,” Schmitt told Wisconsin Reporter.


The proposed law would set a living wage of $12.45 per hour for 350 county employees and hundreds of others who work under contract with the county.


The proposal, however, offers contracting firms an exemption from the wage hike, but only if their workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement between the employer and a bona fide labor union.

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