Taking the Initiative to Deliver Raises

Labor Unions

            New Orleans      Once again, it’s hard not to quote the Beach Boys line about how “we wish we could all be in California” or something close to that.  When it comes to the progress being made for working people by labor unions, the recent news has been amazing.

As PBS and the Associated Press reported recently:

Most of the state’s 500,000 fast food workers would be paid at least $20 per hour next year under a new bill aimed at ending a standoff between the industry and labor unions over wages and working conditions. About 455,000 health care workers — not doctors and nurses, but the people who do everything else at hospitals, dialysis clinics and other facilities — will see their salaries rise to at least $25 per hour over the next 10 years in a separate bill.

This is an emerging accomplishment that is almost unimaginable in the rest of the country.   Emerging because it is based on triparty deals in the making between industry, labor, and the state legislature.  Labor really means the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest union in California, where labor density still means something.   The legislature is bright-blue Democrat with a Democratic governor with national ambitions.  Industry got smart and realized they were in better shape with love than war.

SEIU has led the fight to raise wages of fast-food workers for almost a decade now, and though it has not succeeded in unionizing them, has understood that fighting for higher minimum wages raises the wage floor for all workers, and in California that means many of their members.  Part of this deal meant getting industry to withdraw a proposed ballot initiative that would have given national chains distance from their franchise holders.

SEIU has also made hay with their ability to spend and win on initiatives and reference in California.  Dave Regan, the president of the 85,000-member SEIU healthcare local in California, has been an unstinting advocate for the strategy and tactics of using initiatives to advance workers’ interests in the state and elsewhere in recent years, and much of the credit for these breakthroughs has to go to his work.  They represent many healthcare workers, so this sets a floor for their collective bargaining contracts, since they would know the minimum wage for such workers will be rising by one-dollar a year for the next decade.  The trick here was getting the industry to understand that taking wages somewhat out of competition was not only good for them, but good for workers as well, especially in the continued recruiting shortages.

These kinds of breakthroughs may not get the front-page headlines, but it’s proof positive of why strong labor unions can produce waterfall impacts for workers and their employers, putting a lie to the false claims of trickle-down economics.