Labor Unions Seek Exemption from L.A.’s Minimum Wage Hike

The most ardent supporters of Los Angeles’ plan to increase the minimum wage are now requesting last-minute changes which would exempt them from the requirements of the law.

Rusty Hicks, who heads the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, called for flexibility Tuesday, arguing that companies with workers represented by unions should be able to negotiate a lower wage with employees. Rusty Hicks also happens to help lead the Raise the Wage Coalition, which was instrumental in the push for a citywide wage increase approved by the city council on May 19.

"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," Hicks said in a statement. "This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing."

Business leaders who opposed the plan were quick to point out the apparent hypocrisy.

"I'd refer everyone back to the statements of labor leaders over the past seven months that no one deserves a sub-minimum wage," said Ruben Gonzalez, senior vice president for public policy and political affairs with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. "Once again, the soaring rhetoric of helping the working poor is just a cover for city government acting as a tool of organized labor.”

Under the preliminary plan approved by the city council, the minimum wage will rise from the state-mandated $9 an hour to $10.50 in July 2016. It will be followed by annual increases, reaching $15 by the year 2020.

A previous ordinance which raised wages for large hotel workers to $15.37 per hour allows exemptions for workplaces with collective bargaining agreements. When asked whether the council would consider a similar exemption in this case, Council President Herb Wesson said it’s on the table for discussion.

Read more about labor’s request for an exemption here.