The ‘Living Wage’ Strategy for Unions
Campaign in Washington State helps elect avowed socialist, leads to wide range of regulations
Amidst a national debate about wages and so-called income inequality, labor unions are pushing local “living wage” laws to build support for a hike in the federal minimum wage law. Recently, a Seattle suburb became the first city to adopt a $15 “living wage” law. The city’s experience, which included a wide range of other restrictions on businesses, reveals that the real purpose of such laws is to enhance union organizing.
The City of SeaTac, Washington, is small—10 square miles with a population of approximately 28,000—but a recent referendum there may have nationwide impact. Voters in November approved Proposition 1, a $15-an-hour “living wage” initiative that the Seattle Weekly called a “bellwether of labor politics.”
Two other developments that may be indications of things to come:
► On the same day Prop 1 passed in SeaTac, voters in nearby Seattle elected Kshama Sawant, an “Occupy Seattle” activist and avowed socialist/Marxist, to the city council. A college professor, she ran on a platform that included a $15-an-hour minimum wage, rent control laws, and a “millionaire’s tax” on income.
► Two months later, officials of the local Machinists’ union in Puget Sound (the region that includes Seattle and Tacoma) suffered a setback when members voted to accept a contract with Boeing that gave back some pension rights and made other concessions. Interestingly, the new contract was supported by the national Machinists’ union but opposed by the local union. [See “Labor Notes,” page 8.]
In SeaTac, the $15 minimum wage provision was the headline-generator, yet Prop 1 was far more than a living wage bill. Under the initiative, certain transportation and hospitality employers are also required to provide paid sick leave, promote full-time jobs over part-time and keep extensive new records. Perhaps most importantly, the law is structured to encourage businesses to enter into collective bargaining, because companies can escape the law’s effects if they unionize.