More than one million low-wage workers are expected to benefit;
Over one dozen legislative or ballot proposals expected to move in 2016
Washington, DC – It’s been a banner year for the Fight for $15. The movement, led by fast-food, retail and other low-wage workers, grew markedly in size and influence. Fourteen cities, counties and states approved a $15 minimum wage though local laws, executive orders and other means in 2015. Dozens more ballot or legislative proposals were introduced around the country, 16 of which will carry over into 2016. And at least 23 notable employers voluntarily increased their minimum pay to $15 or higher in 2015, either through company policy or collective bargaining agreements. On New Year’s Day, workers in five jurisdictions will see the first of several increases toward a $15 minimum wage.
Strong Momentum for $15
In 2015, policymakers in 14 cities, counties and states approved $15 minimum wage laws (see Table 1), heeding the calls of fast-food and other low-wage workers and strong union supporters like SEIU, who earlier in the year staged two of the largest mobilizations in decades. More than one million low-wage workers are expected to benefit when the $15 wage raises are fully implemented.
- In New York, fast-food workers won a historic increase through the state’s wage board, which raised pay to $15 per hour by 2018 in New York City, and by 2021 in the rest of the state, making New York the first state to approve a statewide $15 wage floor for fast-food workers, and bringing the Fight for $15 from the city to the state level.
- In addition, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo used his executive powers to increase state employees’ minimum pay to $15 per hour, an increase that will follow the fast-food phase-in schedule. He was joined by Mayors Byron Brown of Buffalo and Lovely Warren of Rochester, who rolled out plans to raise pay for city workers to $15 by 2021, while Mayor Stephanie Miner of Syracuse approved an immediate increase to $15 for city workers.
- In the California cities of Los Angeles, Mountain View and Emeryville, and in the County of Los Angeles, legislators approved $15 increases that will fully phase in between 2018 and 2021.
- Massachusetts made history when Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration raised the hourly pay of home health care workers to $15 by 2018 under a collective bargaining agreement with the Service Employee International Union Local 1199. This agreement made Massachusetts the first—and so far, the only—state to institute a statewide $15 minimum wage for home health care workers.
- Jurisdictions along East and West Coasts were not alone in raising wages for low-wage workers, however. City and contract workers saw their pay increase to $15 in places like Missoula, MT; Pittsburgh, PA; Greensboro, NC; Portland, OR; and Milwaukie, OR.
- Four jurisdictions—New York State, Buffalo, Mountain View and Missoula—plus Seattle, WA (which adopted a $15 minimum wage in 2014) will take steps toward $15 on or about New Year’s Day; an additional four—Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, Emeryville and San Francisco (which approved its $15 minimum wage law in 2014)—will do so on July 1, 2016.
- Four other jurisdictions—Massachusetts, Pittsburgh, Greensboro and Rochester—will begin phasing in their $15 minimum wage laws in 2017, or on dates to be determined; and four others—Syracuse, Portland, Milwaukie and SeaTac (which adopted its minimum wage law in 2013)—have already reached $15.
“We’ve seen incredible momentum this past year in the fight to raise wages to a level that will make a meaningful difference to America’s workers and their families,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “I expect there will be even more energy around the issue of stagnant wages and economic inequality in 2016—and an intense focus on what our elected officials, employers, working people, and voters can and should be doing about it.”
The Fight for $15 is expected to make further inroads in the New Year. There are 16 pending legislative or ballot proposals in 15 jurisdictions that will likely gain traction in 2016 (see Table 2). Among them are a legislative campaign led by New York Gov. Cuomo that seeks to make New York the first state with a statewide $15 minimum wage; a minimum wage ballot initiative in California that puts the Golden State in the running to be the first $15 state; and a ballot initiative in Washington, D.C. that proposes to increase the District’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020 and eliminate the subminimum tipped wage by 2025. In Congress, 53 progressives, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown, Dick Durbin and others, are backing legislation for a $15 federal minimum wage by 2020 and the gradual elimination of the subminimum tipped wage. While action on the minimum wage at any level is unlikely in the current Congress, the proposal has the support of at least 200 economists, and illustrates the influence of low-wage workers in the policymaking process. Several other proposals are currently in the works in cities and states, and are expected to be publicly launched in early 2016.
The Fight for $15 has also influenced the pay scales of employers large and small. In 2015, at least 23 employers increased their minimum pay to between $14 and $16 per hour, or began requiring their contractors to pay at least $15 hourly (see Table 3). These high-road employers include insurance giants Aetna and Nationwide; Silicon Valley powerhouse Facebook; small and large banks, such as C1, First Green and Amalgamated; academic institutions, including the University of California and Duquesne University; and ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s. Four other employers—Lynn Community Health Center, John Hopkins Hospital, the University of Rochester and Moo Cluck Moo—lent early support to the movement when they began paying their employees a minimum of $15 between 2013 and 2014. The Fight for $15 also has had an impact on low-road employers, Walmart and McDonald’s, which in 2015 announced plans to implement modest pay increases in response to pressure from the Fight for $15.
Other Minimum Wage Gains
Worker mobilization in the Fight for $15 has also led to other more modest yet important wins in cities and states in the Midwest and South. These include the 2015 adoption of minimum wage ordinances in southern cities like Birmingham, AL, and Lexington, KY, and in midwestern Johnson County, IA. At the end of 2014, the Midwest’s largest city, Chicago, also adopted a robust minimum wage of $13.00; and ballot initiatives in solid red states, Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, were approved during the midterm November 2014 elections.
On or around January 1st, 14 states will see minimum wage increases due to previously enacted legislation, initiatives, or indexing (see Table 4). Another four states will see increases later in 2016 (see Table 5).
Economic analysis shows that low-wage workers just about anywhere in the country need at least $15 per hour to meet basic needs, and that low-paying jobs can be manageably transitioned to $15 wages. This is supported not only by rigorous academic research and modeling, but also by reports from cities like Seattle and San Francisco that have adopted significantly higher minimum wages in recent years. The experiences of these cities show that higher wages have been manageable for businesses and have not led to layoffs or slowed job growth.