Yesterday, exactly one year away from Election Day 2016, the Fight for $15 campaign held what it’s calling the largest action of its kind in U.S. history. Backed by the Service Employees International Union, the campaign—which calls for a $15 hourly minimum wage and low-wage workers’ right to unionize without retaliation—held rallies, marches, walkouts and strikes in a reported 270 cities around the country.
Fight for $15 began three years ago when about 200 people working in fast food staged a walkout. It has since attracted many other kinds of low-wage workers including those in child care, home care and in adjunct professorships. The organizers estimate that there are 64 million Americans who make less than $15 an hour—a group that could prove to be a substantial voting bloc in the upcoming election.
A study from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found that 42 percent of U.S. workers are paid less than $15 an hour, and that women and people of color are overrepresented in that group. In fact, it includes more than half of all black workers and nearly 60 percent of Latino employees. And fully 96 percent of fast-food workers make less than $15 per hour. Meanwhile, data shows that for just about everywhere in the nation, unmarried workers need to make at least that much to cover basic living expenses. And that doesn’t even include providing for a family. Another NELP poll revealed that 76 percent of low-paid workers said they would pledge to vote for candidates who support $15 and a union.
“Workers need a raise now,” Kansas City, Missouri-based McDonald’s worker Latifah Trezvant said in a statement provided to Colorlines. She makes just $8.65 an hour. “McDonald’s and other large corporations need to step up and pay more. Politicians need to use their power. We can’t wait. We’ve got one message for anyone running for office in 2016, whether it’s for dogcatcher or president: Come get our vote. Stand up for $15 an hour and the right to a union, and we’ll stand behind you.”
Some politicians have already responded with pending legislation in several cities and states. Notably, New York already set the minimum wage to $15 for fast food workers statewide. And its governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced yesterday that he will set the minimum wage at $15 for all state-level public employees—making him the first in his position to do so.
At a New York City Fight for $15 rally, Cuomo said, “We made a decision a long time ago that if you work full time, you should have a decent lifestyle for you and your family.” He went on to say "[I]t is simple math. If you earn the minimum wage, it’s about $18,000 a year in New York, and if you add up the numbers you can’t pay for housing and food and clothing on $18,000 a year, period. … If you get paid the minimum wage, you are still in poverty in this state.”
Among the presidential candidates, the three people seeking the Democratic nomination have expressed support for an increased minimum wage. In July, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation that seeks to incrementally move the federal minimum from $7.25 to $15 by 2020. Martin O’Malley also supports a federal increase to $15. Hillary Clinton supports a $12 federal wage and, per her economic plan, “believes that we should go further than the federal minimum through state and local efforts, and workers organizing and bargaining for higher wages, such as the Fight for $15 and recent efforts in Los Angeles and New York to raise their minimum wage to $15.”
Meanwhile, at last night’s GOP debate, The Washington Post reports that three of the candidates said that they oppose an increase.
“There is nothing that we do now to win. We don’t win anymore. … Taxes too high. Wages too high,” said billionaire Donald Trump. Claiming that a large boost in the minimum wage would hurt America’s ability to compete with overseas manufacturers, he added, “I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) expressed a man-versus-machine view: “If you raise the minimum wage, you’re going to make people more expensive than a machine,” he said.
“Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases,” said retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. [This phenomenon is false, according to The New Republic’s Jamil Smith.] Carson also said the effect was particularly noticeable among African-Americans.
At a September debate, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum expressed support for increasing the federal minimum wage by 50 cents over three years. The current federal minimum wage, $7.25, has not increased since 2009.