Compass: Union leaders put politics of minimum wage before wage itself

Union leaders recently expressed opposition to legislation increasing the minimum wage. To be clear, they support a ballot initiative which does the exact same; however, they feel for the Legislature to pass a substantially similar bill undermines the process. How ironic to hear union leaders call for personal liberties, especially on the heels of their full-blown public relations assault on voters in attempt to buy an election. I'll get to more on that in a bit.

Both the federal and state constitutions establish a legislative branch with the primary responsibility of enacting laws, including appropriation bills. Legislators are specifically tasked with passing laws in the best interest of and on behalf of the people.

When citizens do not believe a particular issue is being adequately addressed, Article 11 of our state constitution establishes a process for the people to present a law by initiative to the voters in a statewide election.

I give credit to the three former union officials and state labor commissioners for bringing the minimum wage issue forward. With all the significant issues facing Alaska, sometimes something needs a spotlight to help move it along.

However, the unions now oppose legislation addressing the very same issue. If they really cared about increasing the minimum wage, wouldn't they support the most expedient means to achieve their goal? Don't they know that if the Legislature passes the measure it could take effect six months earlier than the process they endorse would allow? Might their political motivation outweigh the merits of this issue?

The unions say they don't trust the Legislature and believe there is an ulterior motive influencing their action. If constituents strongly support an issue, legislators have a constitutional responsibility to represent their constituents and enact laws. Passing the legislation in the next two weeks would be much more efficient and likely less expensive. It would also save considerable union-member money spent on campaign ads endlessly promoting the ballot proposition. The public will be assaulted with endless political ads on the airwaves this upcoming election year. Why add to the auditory assault? Why not just pass it now and git 'er done?

More than one hundred years ago, Henry Ford adopted a $5 a day minimum wage for his workers. He had a motivation as well. In addition to improving the morale and productivity of his workforce, his motivation was to create a middle class which could afford to buy the automobiles he was making.

I have no issue with people acting with an objective or motive as long as they are honest. I admire the approach of House Speaker Mike Chenault who is asking his colleagues that if they vote for a minimum wage bill, they do so with the commitment of letting it stand as presented by the 43,000 voters who signed the petition. If they don't act genuinely and reverse their action next year, then we should hold them accountable; I know I certainly will.

In the recent Anchorage municipal election, union political contributions funded an unprecedented industrial strength media blitz intended to influence a local Assembly race. Vince Beltrami, the committee's chair and the president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, the state's largest labor organization, said their intent was to "beat the crap out of Adam Trombley."

The union insistence on keeping the minimum wage on the ballot is all part of their goal to influence the outcome of elections. They know the issues on the ballot can be used as political tools to energize voters who are more likely to support their candidates.

Luckily, Alaskans will see through this motivation, even if the unions are not forthright.

The initiative process is properly invoked when government has failed to enact laws. The Legislature is doing its job by taking up the minimum wage and I encourage them to proceed. With a proper vetting through the legislative committee process and adequate public comment, the focus will be kept on the merits of the issue, not the politics.

John MacKinnon is executive director of Associated General Contractors of Alaska.