The exemption proposal was made by Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. Similar exemption clauses are not uncommon in laws passed to raise local minimum pay.
The collective bargaining clause in the wage bill "preserves and protects basic worker rights, and that is why nearly every city in California that has ever passed a minimum wage ordinance has included these protections," said Hicks in a prepared statement. "I recognize it needs additional time for debate in front of lawmakers and the public, and I support that.
"I would never do anything to undermine the rights of any worker," said Hicks, also a leader in the local "Raise the Wage" campaign that fought for the $15 minimum wage.
Some of the queasiness about a union clause in the L.A. wage bill may stem from shifting attitudes about unions over the decades. Are unions something every American worker should have access to, or a special interest group issue?
"I think unions are a standard piece of American democracy," said Tilly of UCLA. "But I think that's disappeared from public discourse."
Bigger picture, the fight in Los Angeles for $15 demonstrates the growing power that select cities have in shaping the national wage fight.
Seattle led the charge last year, when the city council voted to boost the city's minimum hourly rate to $15—more than twice the federal amount of $7.25 an hour. In November, San Francisco voters decided to lift the city's minimum pay to $15.
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And in New York last week, a wage board—appointed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo—moved to raise the pay floor to $15 for thousands of fast-food workers throughout the state. Cuomo used existing wage laws and bypassed legislative approval. New York state's workforce has 180,000 fast-food workers—the fourth highest in the nation.
The broader strategy at play here, among wage advocates, includes cities planting the $15 wage stake first. The hope is that states will follow.
"At this point, cities are taking the pioneering role," said Tilly of UCLA. "We're going to see states prompted into increased action. It won't be too much longer before there's a higher federal minimum wage."