Labor Leaders’ Credibility Slips in Minimum-wage Debate

L.A.’s decision to boost the minimum wage should have been the sweetest of victories for organized labor.

Mayor Eric Garcetti helped union leaders and their allies achieve a long-sought goal Saturday, signing an ordinance that moves the city’s hourly minimum to $15 by 2020.

But for some partisans on each side of the debate, that historic moment has been tainted by labor leaders’ last-minute push for an exemption for unionized workplaces. The request for a union waiver — proposed and then abruptly shelved — drew national attention, much of it negative, to the county Federation of Labor and its recently installed top executive, Rusty Hicks.

When Hicks and his allies advocated for the increase, “they basically said everybody who works in Los Angeles is entitled to $15 an hour — that that’s the minimum people should be paid so they can pay rent and support their families,” said lobbyist Steve Afriat, who bucked other business officials by endorsing a $15 minimum wage last fall. “And then … they hardly take a break before they say, ‘We want our members exempt from it.'”

That request hurt the credibility of union leaders, Afriat said, particularly among L.A. leaders who are not their “knee-jerk” supporters. Other assessments were similarly harsh.

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