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Los Angeles Union Argues For... Union Exemption From $15 Minimum Wage

Labor leaders say the measure would protect collectively-bargained contracts if local wage laws are challenged in court.

Posted on April 12, 2016, at 5:02 p.m. ET

Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters

The Los Angeles city council was scheduled Tuesday to consider exempting unionized workers from the new minimum wage law raising the city's wage to $15 by 2020.

On its face, the exemption is confusing; Unions and labor advocates have loudly backed the national fight for higher wages, which recently led to the passage of state-wide increases to $15 in California and New York. But the strategy has precedent.

Last year, Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, proposed and then defended the exemption measure against the Chambers of Commerce and International Franchise Association, who criticized its appearance of "hypocrisy."

But labor leaders have given another reason for the union carve-out: If local wage ordinances are challenged in court, as they frequently are, union contracts are protected.

In other words, the exemption isn't about unions seeking to pay their members less, but rather protecting them in case their hard won gains are lost.

"This is about staying consistent with previous provisions and crafting something that will withstand legal scrutiny and delay," Hicks said last May.

The California AFL-CIO did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The tactic of excepting unions from certain labor regulations is relatively common in California. Other cities with local wage laws, including San Jose, Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, and Long Beach, have clauses exempting unions.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.