October 15, 2013 Print

SeaTac Unions Can't Keep Up With Their Own Rhetoric

Last week, the Freedom Foundation released a report analyzing the role of seven local unions in supporting Proposition 1 in the City of SeaTac. The report found that the unions were not living up to the same employment standards they are attempting to impose on SeaTac businesses.

Among other things, Prop. 1 seeks to create a $15 an hour minimum wage requirement and promote full-time employment.

On these two measures, our report found that 26% of workers employed by the seven unions earned less than a full-time $15 an hour minimum wage last year.

Supporters of Prop. 1 argue, however, that the report is inaccurate. A blog posted by Goldy at The Slog contends:

The report claims that SEIU Healthcare 775NW pays about a third of its 148 employes [sic] less the $15 an hour—and about 20 percent of its employees less than the state mandated $9.19! How's that even possible? Hint: It isn't!

As anyone who had actually read the report would know, we did not allege that any union employees are paid below minimum wage. In fact, we explicitly noted that “the union staff earning less than a full-time salary at the state minimum wage of $9.19 an hour are likely part-time workers.”

Goldy continues:

What the report's author apparently did was take SEIU 775's annual report to the National Labor Relations Board—which merely lists annual income for each employee—and then divided each employee's income by 40 hours a week and 52 weeks a year, making no accommodation for whether the employee might have worked part time or only part of the year. I've seen SEIU 775's pay scale. Nobody there currently makes less than $15.00.

Even if the unions pay all of their employees more than $15 an hour, this is not a “living wage” if their employees are only working 20 hours a week. Total annual salary is what matters, at least according to the unions, which is why the union-backed Yes! For SeaTac website accuses businesses of “gaming the system” by providing part-time instead of full-time jobs.  

The Prop. 1 champions at Puget Sound Sage have released two reports about wage levels in SeaTac: “First-Class Airport, Poverty-Class Jobs” and “Below the Radar.” Both reports use average annual wages to determine living wage rates (page 6 in First-Class Airport, page 7 in Below the Radar). Both papers rely on reports from the Alliance for a Just Society to determine living wage rates for Washington (footnote 21 in First-Class Airport, footnote 41 in Below the Radar).

In its latest report, the Alliance for a Just Society based all of its hourly living wage rates on the assumption that workers were employed full-time. For instance, according to the report, if an individual needs a "living wage" of $33,544 per year, they need to earn at least $16.33 an hour full-time.

The data unions self-reported to the Department of Labor indicates that 26% of workers employed by the unions earn less in a year than if they were paid $15 an hour full-time.

While this is unacceptable according to the standards the unions publicly support and privately ignore, we do not believe that the unions are guilty of any wrongdoing. As we note in our report, unions may have very good reasons for not paying all of their employees $15 an hour full-time.

Our position is simply that “neither unions nor businesses should be made to comply with burdensome and arbitrary employment regulations of the kind contained in SeaTac’s Prop. 1 initiative.”

Instead of being about providing $15 full-time jobs on principle, Prop. 1 is more about creating new dues-paying union members, whatever the negative economic consequences for workers and businesses.


Maxford Nelsen

Labor Policy Analyst

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