Business, Free Enterprise and Constitutional Issues; Pro-Life and Pro Second Amendment. Susan Lynn is a member of the Tennessee General Assembly. She serves as Chairman of the Consumer and Human Resources subcommittee and on the Finance Ways and Means Committee. She holds a BS in economics and a minor in history.
Labor contracts are often tied to the law—and it reduces the competition for lower-paying jobs.
By RICHARD BERMAN - tHE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Organized labor's instantaneous support for President Obama's recent proposal to hike the minimum wage doesn't make much sense at first glance. The average private-sector union member—at least one who still has a job—earns $22 an hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's a far cry from the current $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage, or the $9 per hour the president has proposed. Altruistic solidarity with lower-paid workers isn't the reason for organized labor's cheerleading, either.
The real reason is that some unions and their members directly benefit from minimum wage increases—even when nary a union member actually makes the minimum wage.
The Center for Union Facts analyzed collective-bargaining agreements obtained from the Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards. The data indicate that a number of unions in the service, retail and hospitality industries peg their base-line wages to the minimum wage.
The Labor Department's collective-bargaining agreements file has a limited number of contracts available, so we were unable to determine how widespread the practice is. But the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union says that pegging its wages to the federal minimum is commonplace. On its website, the UFCW notes that "oftentimes, union contracts are triggered to implement wage hikes in the case of minimum wage increases." Such increases, the UFCW says, are "one of the many advantages of being a union member."
The labor contracts that we examined used a variety of methods to trigger the increases. The two most popular formulas were setting baseline union wages as a percentage above the state or federal minimum wage or mandating a ﬂat wage premium above the minimum wage.
Other union contracts stipulate that, following a minimum-wage increase, the union and the employer reopen wage talks. The negotiations could pressure employers and unions to hammer out a new contract, regardless of how long their existing contracts last. Presumably the reopened negotiations could also prompt an employer's demand for union givebacks, but that possibility does not seem to scare the unions.
Minimum-wage hikes are beneficial to unions in other ways. The increases restrict the ability of businesses to hire low-skill workers who might gladly work for lower wages in order to gain experience. Union members thus face less competition from workers who might threaten union jobs.
This view is not speculation. A 2004 study in the Journal of Human Resources by economists William Wascher, Mark Schweitzer and David Neumark determined that lower-wage union workers typically see a boost in employment and earned income following a mandated wage hike. Never mind the corresponding drop in jobs and earned income for nonunion minimum-wage workers. They may have been priced out of the jobs they need, but that is not the union's concern—its members have landed higher wages and reduced competition for jobs.
Such considerations are worth keeping in mind when contemplating the president's wage proposal and the fervent Democratic support for similar and often more ambitious measures, such as Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's bill to raise the minimum wage to $9.80. Labor unions spent an estimated $174 million on the 2012 election, with 91% of the money going to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Now many union members could see their paychecks grow as the result of a Democrat-backed mandate—even though the overwhelming majority of scholarly evidence says that these wage increases have a negative effect on employment.
Mr. Berman is the executive director of the Center for Union Facts.