Out in California there’s been huge “progress” in the Fight for 15 and raising the minimum wage. Obviously it’s not just grassroots activists and disaffected workers getting all of this done because they generally don’t have the cash and the statewide organizational structure to get the ball rolling quickly. The unions are the big players in this game and they’ve teamed up with legislators and business owners to make that happen.

Wait a minute… business owners? Why would they be looking to raise the minimum wage?

We’ll circle back to that in a moment. But first we need to tackle the mystery of why some of the people who are actually complaining the most are union workers themselves. There are raises being given out to be sure, but some of these folks aren’t getting a slice of the pie. (LA Times)

[Bill] Martinez, a 53-year-old bellhop, has hauled tourists’ luggage across the flagstone plaza of the Sheraton Universal in Studio City for two decades. He said he was excited after the council’s vote to raise the minimum hourly wage at large hotels to $15.37, which he expected to boost his paycheck by 71%.

He soon found out he wouldn’t be getting a raise after all. Under an obscure provision of the city’s wage hike, unionized hotels were granted an exemption allowing them to pay their employees less. The result is that Martinez, who pays $56.50 every month for membership in the hotel workers union Unite Here, now makes less than those doing the same job in non-union workplaces.

“That’s what really makes me mad,” Martinez said. “I just wanted to be treated equal. Don’t exempt us, because we’re the ones paying union dues.”

So why isn’t Bill getting some of that sweet $15.37 per hour action? He’s a member of the union who worked to have the higher wage mandated. But what Bill didn’t know was that there was a loophole in the rules which said that hotels with union labor didn’t have to pay the higher wage unless they felt like it. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.)

As the Times article admits, this is rather counterintuitive. The raison d’etre of unions is supposedly to arrange better conditions, compensation and benefits for their members, so why they would agree to that deal doesn’t jump out at you. But the reality is that not all of the hotels are unionized. The ones who run open shops fall under the new arrangement and have to pay their workers significantly higher wages. So how do they get out of this sudden spike in labor costs which could put them at a disadvantage with their competitors? (Cue the Jeopardy music…)

They can just unionize their work force.

It’s really a genius maneuver if you think about it. Getting a raise for some of the workers in the city who already belong to your union doesn’t really translate into that much more money in dues because they only collect a small percentage of the increase. But if you can suddenly enlist the workers at a whole raft of new businesses into your organization you get a piece of all their paychecks. It’s the perfect plan, really.

Of course, the people who get left out in the cold are the actual members of the union, particularly once they find out what’s going on. But that was never the real objective of the union in modern times anyway. What’s critical is enlisting as much of the workforce as possible and keeping the cash flowing in so they can continue to fund the political campaigns of Democrats.

FightFifteen