In the fight over the minimum wage, some unions propose contract language that exempts unionized employers from paying a higher wage.

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IN Washington state and across the nation, union executives and labor activists are demanding mandatory paid sick leave and a $15 minimum wage for workers. They say it is a “matter of fairness” — workers deserve higher wages and paid time off when they are sick.

So why do many of these minimum-wage and paid-sick-leave laws, purportedly designed to benefit workers, exempt unionized businesses?

In many of the minimum-wage and paid-sick-leave proposals pushed by unions, they have hypocritically included a union escape clause.

After well-funded campaigns by labor unions, SeaTac and other jurisdictions have an exemption for unionized employers that allow them to pay a lower wage and not pay for sick leave. Thanks to the union escape clause supported by labor, unionized employers can legally pay their workers less than what their nonunion counterparts earn.

That’s right. The union executives pushing these measures don’t think union members deserve to actually benefit from them. So much for fairness.

It is revealing that the $15 minimum-wage campaign in SeaTac, considered Ground Zero of the “Fight for $15” movement, initially had nothing to do with winning a higher minimum wage or paid sick leave for workers. It started as an effort to intimidate SeaTac employers into unionizing. Unions tried to strong-arm employers into unionizing by threatening to fund a $15 minimum-wage ballot measure. When employers resisted, union executives made good on their threat, complete with a clause to coerce and incentivize employers to unionize.

This disturbing trend of using government labor mandates as a means of threatening and coercing business owners is not confined to cities. It is taking root with some state lawmakers as well. Bills mandating paid sick leave (HB 1356), paid vacation (HB 1163) and triple pay for employees who work on Thanksgiving Day (HB 1694) were introduced this year and, though they didn’t pass, each included an exemption for unionized employers.

Labor unions’ willingness to undercut their own members demonstrates the self-serving motive behind the legislation — pressure employers to unionize in order to take advantage of the union exemption. Unionizing becomes a low-cost way for employers to avoid being subjected to more restrictive mandates. The tactic is also a way for union executives to collect more dues. It’s a “win-win” for employers and unions.

Paradoxically, left out of the “win-win” are the workers who are forced to pay union dues for the union to represent them — workers exempted from the benefits of the higher wage or paid sick leave because they are a union member. Washington is not a right-to-work state, so workers have no say in whether they pay those dues to be represented by the union; it is a condition of employment.

Isn’t joining a union supposed to be about better pay and benefits and protecting powerless workers from being exploited by greedy and unethical employers? Today it is the union workers who are exploited, by the union executives who are supposed to represent them.

Workers rallying with labor activists to pass the $15-wage and paid-sick-leave mandates should be careful what they wish for. They could very well find themselves exempted out of the benefits they thought they were fighting for.