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November 4, 2013 at 6:45 AM

Are unions self-dealing with SeaTac minimum wage?

Tucked into the SeaTac $15 minimum wage ordinance is a big exemption to the landmark proposal.

In the Waivers section of the proposed ordinance, available on the City of SeaTac website, Proposition 1 gives employers a break from the minimum wage, the paid sick days and other employee protections – as long as the business is unionized.

All of the provisions of this Chapter, or any part hereof, including the employee work environment reporting requirement set forth herein, may be waived in a bona fide collective bargaining agreement, but only if the waiver is explicitly set forth in such agreement in clear and unambiguous terms.

That means employers have a big incentive to cozy up with the same labor unions who pushed the idea and have contributed hundreds of thousands to the campaign. It all looks like a nice bit of self-dealing for organized labor. And it’s often overlooked. It’s missing from the Yes! for SeaTac’s “Get the Facts” and in some coverage, although it’s consistently noted in Amy Martinez’s stories for the Seattle Times.

Yes for SeaTac spokeswoman Heather Weiner said the provision gives employers and unionized employees flexibility. She cites an example: When Seattle passed a mandatory sick leave policy that has a similar waiver, Catholic Community Services negotiated with unions to delay the policy for eight months. In exchange, Catholic Community Services agreed to apply the sick leave policy to all home care workers statewide.

“If I were an employer, I’d rather have a collective bargaining agreement because it gives me flexibility. But some employers won’t do that because they don’t like CBAs,” said Weiner.

Unions have donated the vast majority of the $1.377 million raised by Yes for SeaTac as of Sunday. Max Nelson of the libertarian Freedom Foundation, writing a guest op-ed in the Puget Sound Business Journal, suggests that river of money is a wise financial investment.

Data that unions report to the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that median dues for members of Unite Here Local 8 total $471 in a year, plus other fees. At the high end, members of Teamsters Local 117 pay dues totaling $1,380 a year at median rates.

Advocates estimate that Prop. 1 would cover about 6,300 workers. If the initiative produces 1,000 new union members paying an average of $900 in dues per year, unions will generate an additional annual income of about $900,000, for a one-time investment of about $825,000. Not bad at all.

There’s a similar waiver for unions in the $15.37 minimum wage at LAX airport (per the L.A. Times); one in the San Francisco minimum wage law; and there was one in a proposed 50-percent increase in the minimum wage for big-box retailers in Washington, D.C. (it failed in September because of threats by Walmart).

Weiner said there “hasn’t been a mad rush to unionize” because of minimum wage laws at airports.

But there apparently was in Long Beach. A union waiver in a $13 minimum wage prompted several Long Beach hotels to stop fighting labor and work with Unite Here to unionize, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

Does the union waiver in Prop. 1 make you more or less likely to vote for it?

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