Ph: Wesley Pinkham.
Recently, the Los Angeles and Seattle City Council passed resolutions supporting the wage increase. While the increases are not set to start for several years (it will take full effect in L.A. in 2020), the vote was forced by community activists and led by labor unions. SEIU in particular led the campaign for non-unionized workers at fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Taco Bell.
Last week, however, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) backtracked on its support for a $15 minimum wage for Los Angeles City workers who are members of a union. In City Council Rusty Hicks, Secretary-Treasurer of LA County Federation claimed that the new bill violates labor law and that it would harm small businesses. Let’s remember that this same organization of unions fought for the bill to be passed in the first place. Even employers were shocked: “The very organizations that pushed so hard for this increase over the past seven years are now saying they should be exempt?” asked Dustan Batton, from the L.A. County Business Federation.
The LA County Federation of Labor’s decision to exclude unionized workplaces was not made through a vote by its membership, close to 100 thousand predominantly homecare and healthcare workers. The leadership’s move was a betrayal to its rank and file membership, in particular to those who make less than $15/hr. This is what top-down “business” unionism has been doing for the last few decades.
If unions were under rank and file control, they would be able to reach out to unorganized and “precarious” workers, not simply to increase a dues base without threat to the bosses, but to build a unified, combative fight for better living conditions, wages and a stronger organization of the class.
Unfortunately, this is not on the LA County Federation of Labor’s agenda. How does one explain the “appeal” of this exemption, allowing employers to pay less to unionized workers? Unions are waning and face the need to increase their dues-base in order to survive, and for union leadership to maintain their benefits. This is normally accomplished by flexing muscles, rallying workers, striking, making threats to the continuity of production and –by doing so–successful unionizing drives. In this case, the LA County Federation instead tried to entice employers to sign contract with unions by giving them the benefit of paying less to the workers. So they sought to convince the employers to accept union representation without a fight and at the expense of its own membership. This cannot be called anything but betrayal.
This is not how the labor movement will be rebuilt.