Can Unions Opt-Out of Minimum Wage Requirements?
McCray was part of a labor union for hotel workers called Unite Here Local 19. Unite Here ended up filing an amicus brief in the pending appeal, arguing that employers and employees could, in fact, negotiate to opt-out of the local San Jose wage ordinance. And the ability to opt out, they argued, is not just limited to San Jose—unions have the option to waive local minimum-wage ordinances throughout California. According to the union, this ability is part of a historical tradition, and nothing new, not only in California but across the United States. So, why would a union argue for the option to negotiate lower wages than those required by law? Unite Here says that these opt outs often give unions leverage to negotiate better compensation when factored in with benefits like paid vacation and sick time, health insurance, and pension benefits. In response to McCray’s February 2016 complaint that is currently on appeal, Marriott made similar arguments, claiming that wait staff received valuable benefits in exchange for their low hourly wage—like paid vacation time, paid sick leave, paid holidays, pension contributions, paid health benefits, and maternity leave.
McCray’s Case Kicked Out of Court
The Federal District Court for the Northern District of California kicked McCray v. Marriott Hotel Services out of court March of 2017 because McCray failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.The court ruled that McCray needed to at least attempt to exhaust the grievance procedures that were outlined in his CBA before bringing the case into federal court. Although oddly, McCray’s own union sided against him in an amicus brief that mirrored defendant Marriott’s arguments, the court found that McCray did not meet his burden of proving that Unite Here was acting in such a discriminatory manner, or in such bad faith in its representation of him to warrant sidestepping the mandatory grievance procedures outlined in McCray’s CBA. Unless an employee can make such a showing, those remedies must first be exhausted before appealing his unpaid wages lawsuit to the federal court system.
California Courts Deciding Several Big Wage and Hour Cases
The local wage ordinance at issue in McCray only allows unions to waive the ordinance “to the extent required by federal law.” In other words, a union cannot enter into a contract with an employer that violates federal law. The McCray Court is not the only California court that has been wrestling with the interplay between local, state, and federal labor laws.
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currently considering how this squares with state law requiring employees to be paid, including overtime, for all time that they work.
In several other high profile cases currently pending in California courts, the practice of not paying employees for time spent getting their bags checked when leaving their shifts for the day has come under scrutiny.