Tag Archives: $15

California, New York set to raise minimum wage to $15

California and New York — where almost 1 in 5 Americans live — are on their way to raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the activists who spearheaded those efforts are now setting their sights on other similarly liberal, Democratic-led states.

Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington are among the states with active “Fight for $15” efforts, and even economic experts who oppose the increased rate see it gaining momentum.

“There is lots of pressure to do this,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director who is now president of the conservative American Action Forum, which says big minimum-wage increases cost jobs.

The idea faces headwinds in more conservative and rural states in the South and the Midwest. But activists believe the movement is picking up steam, even if their two big victories so far were achieved in two highly receptive places: trend-setting, liberal, labor-friendly states with a high cost of living and yawning gaps between rich and poor, especially in New York City and Silicon Valley.

Since the $15-an-hour movement planted roots with a 2012 New York City fast food workers strike, it has gained ground amid the broader debate over income inequality. Cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco have recently agreed to go to $15 in the coming years, and Oregon’s minimum wage is headed to $14.75 in Portland.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been pushing for a $15-an-hour standard nationally, while President Barack Obama has called more generally for raising the minimum wage. The federal minimum is currently $7.25; 29 states and Washington, D.C., have set theirs higher.

Sanders’ primary opponent and a former New York senator, Hillary Clinton, has supported raising the federal minimum wage to $12. Her campaign website says she also believes “we should go further than the federal minimum through state and local efforts, and by workers organizing and bargaining for higher wages, such as the Fight for 15.”

New York and California are now on track to have the highest. California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, is set Monday to sign a measure boosting the current $10 rate to $15 by 2022.

In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have agreed on a more complex plan. The $9 minimum would gradually rise to $15 in New York City by the end of 2018 and then in some prosperous suburbs by the end of 2021, but only to $12.50 in 2020 in the rest of the state, with further increases to $15 tied to inflation and other economic indicators. The measure headed to Cuomo’s desk after passing the Legislature on Friday.

New York’s graduated approach stemmed from negotiations with Republicans who worried such a sharp increase would devastate businesses, particularly in the more fragile economy outside the New York metropolitan area.

Similar dynamics may play out in other parts of the country. While $15 may seem reasonable in high-paying areas, “it’s a much harder lift in low-wage areas,” said Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.

Also, California and New York have politically influential unions, strong community organizing activity and Democratic politicians eager to translate the movement into legislation.

“That’s not going to happen in some states, particularly in the South and maybe some of the Midwest,” said Peter Dreier, a politics professor at Occidental College.

Idaho lawmakers, for example, recently passed a measure barring local governments from raising the statewide minimum of $7.25, and Republicans in Arizona are trying to do the same.

The income gap has been widening in every state for at least 30 years but is particularly pronounced in states with large financial or information technology industries, according to economists Mark Price of the Keystone Research Center and Estelle Sommeiller of the Institute for Research in Economics and Social Sciences in France.

The top 1 percent of New York taxpayers, for instance, earned 40 times the average income of the state’s remaining 99 percent in 2011, according to research from University of California at Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. Nationally, the top 1 percent made 24 times that of everyone else; in California, the top earned 26 times more.

Economists have long debated the impact of raising the minimum wage, and some recent research has found that modest increases seldom cost many jobs. But the jumps to $15 are larger than those economists have tested in the past, and there are fears of widespread job losses in some places.

In New York City, Joseph Sferrazza worries that paying $15 will cost him his bakery, La Bella Ferrera. The rate is nearly double what he now pays his employees, mostly students working part time.

“The rent is so high, the profit margin is already so low, I don’t see how we can make it work,” he said. “You can only charge so much for a cookie.”

But $15 an hour would be a 50 percent raise for Maria Velez, 29, who makes $10 an hour working at a children’s program and helps support her parents and grandparents.

“This city is crazy expensive and only getting worse,” she said. If the boost took effect immediately, “it would make my life and my family’s life better — but in five years? I can’t say.”

Klepper reported from Albany. Associated Press writers Colleen Long in New York; Paul Wiseman and Christopher Rugaber in Washington; and Jonathan Cooper and Alison Noon in Sacramento, California, contributed to this report.

 

Fast-food workers protest across the state on Democratic debate day in Milwaukee

Fast-food workers across Wisconsin today — Democratic debate day in Milwaukee — are demonstrating, repeating their demand for $15 an hour and union rights.

Later today, Feb. 11, they will join a protest outside the debate forum and candidates on the 2016 political field to stand with the 46 percent of workers in Wisconsin who are paid earn less than $15 an hour.

Many of the protesters are young and will be voting in their first presidential primary this year.

“I never thought my voice could make a difference,” said Kyesha Lee, a McDonald’s worker form Milwaukee who is paid $8.25 an hour and will be voting for the first time in the April presidential preference primary. “The fight for $15 has shown me that’s not true. Across the country, politicians have responded to workers out in the street marching for $15/hour and union rights, and we’re seeing workers win pay raises everywhere from L.A. to New York.”

Demonstrators gathered at about noon at the McDonald’s restaurant at 420 E. Capitol in Milwaukee.

At about 5 p.m. they planned to join a rally at Lake Park and march to the debate forum.

“I am a first-time voter and the honor and responsibility of that isn’t lost on me,” said Cornelius Powell, a home-care worker from Milwaukee who is paid $9.50 an hour. “Home care workers help hold our communities together and care for one another, and now we’re calling on politicians to do the same. Low-wage workers and young people have the most at stake in this election. I know every politician wants a 19-year-old’s vote, but if they want it they’ll have to stand for $15 and union rights!”

The debate is taking place at the Helen Bader Concert Hall in the Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Wisconsin rep. introduces bill for $15 minimum wage

Wisconsin state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, on April 28 introduced a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

“Wisconsin workers are the true profit creators for our economy but barely make enough to make ends meet,” said Sargent in a news release. “Here in Wisconsin we take care of each other, and we believe that if we work hard and play by the rules, we should all have a fighting chance.”

Sargent’s bill comes less than two weeks after workers around on the country protested in solidarity for a minimum wage increase to $15, and were joined by thousands of people from communities in Wisconsin.

“Increasing minimum wage puts money in the pockets of hardworking Wisconsinites, which allows increased consumer spending, the creation of more jobs, and the saving of taxpayer dollars,” Sargent said. “It’s a win-win.”

She continued, “People are struggling to stay in the middle class and provide for their families. We need an economy that works for all of us, and we know that we do better when we all do better. We’ve got to start having our workers’ backs, and that starts with raising the wage.”

State Rep. Lisa Subeck, also a Democrat from Madison, joined Sargent in pushing to raise the minimum wage. Subeck said, “It is unconscionable that you can work a full-time job and still live in poverty. Full-time minimum wage workers struggle to support their families while earning less than $300 per week. These hardworking families need and deserve a raise.” 

A Center on Wisconsin Strategy report, published in collaboration with the Economic Policy Institute, found that in 2013 the poverty wage was $11.36 per hour. In 2013, one of four Wisconsin workers —  more than 700,000 people — earned below poverty wage.

“We need a minimum wage that compensates workers fairly and ensures hardworking families earn enough to pay the bills and put food on the table,” said Subeck. “Low-wage workers provide significant profits for their employers yet earn too little to adequately provide for their own families’ basic needs.” 

Thirteen states raised the minimum wage at the start of 2014. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the rate of job growth in states that raised the minimum wage met or surpassed job growth in states that have failed to raise wages.

In concert with the introduction of the bill, Wisconsin Jobs Now launched a petition campaign to raise the minimum wage.

Low-wage earners demonstrate in ‘Fight for $15’

The Fight for $15 campaign to win higher pay and a union for fast-food workers is expanding to represent a variety of low-wage workers and become more of a social justice movement.

In New York City on April 15, more than 100 chanting protesters gathered outside a McDonald’s around noon, prompting the store to lock its doors to prevent the crowd from streaming in.

Demonstrators laid on the sidewalk outside to stage a “die-in,” which became popular during the “Black Lives Matter” protests after recent police shootings of black men. Several wore sweatshirts that said “I Can’t Breathe,” a nod to the last words of a black man in New York City who died after he was put in a police chokehold.

Timothy Roach, a 21-year-old Wendy’s worker from Milwaukee, said the police brutality black men face is linked to the lack of economic opportunity they’re given. He said the protests were necessary to send a message to companies.

“If they don’t see that it matters to us, then it won’t matter to them,” Roach said.

Organizers said demonstrations were planned for more than 230 U.S. cities and college campuses, as well as dozens of cities overseas. Among those who joined the latest day of protests were airport workers, Walmart workers and adjunct professors.

The campaign began in late 2012 and is being spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union, which represents low-wage workers in areas like home care, child care and building cleaning services. Mary Kay Henry, the SEIU’s president, said the push has already helped prompt local governments to consider higher minimum wages, nudged companies to announce pay hikes and made it easier for SEIU members to win better contracts. Those results are inspiring other groups of workers, she said.

“It has defied a sense of hopelessness,” she said.

In Jackson, Mississippi, around 30 people protested in a McDonald’s before being kicked out, with one of the demonstrators being arrested for trespassing. Protesters also gathered outside McDonald’s restaurants in cities including Denver, Los Angeles and Albany, New York.

Even if fast-food workers and others never become union members, winning higher pay for them would benefit the SEIU by helping lift pay for its members, said Susan Schurman, dean of Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.

“By raising the wage floor, it really benefits everyone,” she said.

Ann Hodges, a professor of labor employment law at the University of Richmond, said engaging different types of workers also broadens the appeal of the movement by increasing the chances people know someone who’s affected.

And the push to make Fight for $15 more of a social justice movement makes those who might have negative perceptions about unions more likely to join, she said.

“It becomes easier to organize workers if they view it as something positive and socially desirable,” Hodges said.

In the meantime, McDonald’s said this month it would raise its starting salary to $1 above the local minimum wage, and give workers the ability to accrue paid time off. It marked the company’s first national pay policy, and indicates McDonald’s wants to take control of its image as an employer. But the move only applies to workers at company-owned stores, which account for about 10 percent of more than 14,300 locations.

McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s say they don’t control the employment decisions at franchised restaurants. The SEIU is working to upend that position and hold McDonald’s responsible for labor conditions at franchised restaurants in multiple ways, including lawsuits.

In a statement, McDonald’s said it respects the right to “peacefully protest.” In the past, it said only about 10 to 15 McDonald’s workers out of about 800,000 in the U.S. have participated.

In a recent column in The Chicago Tribune, McDonald’s Corp. CEO Steve Easterbrook described the company’s pay hike and other perks as “an initial step,” and said he wants to transform McDonald’s into a “modern, progressive burger company.”

But that transformation will have to take place as labor organizers continue pressuring employers over wages. Ahead of the protests this week, a study funded by the SEIU found working families rely on $153 billion in public assistance a year as a result of their low wages.

Seattle council votes for nation’s highest minimum wage

The Seattle City Council on June 2 approved an ordinance that would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, making it the highest in the nation.

WHAT IS THE MINIMUM WAGE IN SEATTLE NOW?

It is $9.32 an hour, the Washington state minimum wage, which is itself the highest minimum wage of any state. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

WHEN WOULD SEATTLE’S WAGE GO UP?

The measure, which would take effect on April 1, 2015, would be phased-in over several years. The plan gives businesses with more than 500 employees nationally at least three years to phase in the increase. Those providing health insurance will have four years to complete the move. Smaller organizations will be given seven years.

WHY SEATTLE?

The minimum wage issue has dominated local politics for months. New Mayor Ed Murray campaigned on raising the minimum wage during his campaign last fall, and local voters elected a socialist candidate to the City Council who has also pushed aggressively for the increase. The ordinance came from recommendations made by an advisory group of labor, business and nonprofit representatives convened by Murray.

WHAT ARE PEOPLE SAYING?

Some business owners complain the increase could lead them to cut back on hiring or scale back plans to expand operations. Some labor activists say the phased-in approach takes too long to get to $15 an hour. The goal of the advisory group recommendations was to avoid competing minimum wage ballot initiatives this fall from business and labor groups.

WHAT’S GOING ON ELSEWHERE?

President Barack Obama supports raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Minnesota earlier this year raised the state’s guaranteed wage by more than $3, to $9.50, by 2016. California, Connecticut and Maryland also have passed laws increasing their respective wages to $10 or more in coming years.

Seattle could set highest minimum wage in nation

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray this week proposed a phased-in increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next seven years — a compromise endorsed by both business and labor that would make the city’s pay baseline the highest in the nation.

A group called 15 Now, led by socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant, wanted to see an immediate wage hike for large businesses and a three-year phase-in for organizations with fewer than 250 full-time employees. They are gathering signatures to get their competing $15 wage initiative on the November ballot.

The mayor’s proposal is the latest by cities and states nationwide to raise minimum wages. Last month, Minnesota raised the state’s guaranteed wage by more than $3, to $9.50, by 2016. California, Connecticut and Maryland also have passed laws increasing their respective wages to $10 or more in coming years, and other states are going well above the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.

If Seattle’s plan is approved, the city would move toward having the highest wage of any U.S. city. San Francisco, at $10.55 an hour, has that distinction now.

The mayor’s proposal gives businesses with more than 500 employees nationally at least three years to phase in the increase. Those providing health insurance will have four years to complete the move.

Smaller organizations will be given seven years, with the new wage including a consideration for tips and health care costs over the first five years.

Once the $15 wage is reached, future annual increases will be tied to the consumer price index.

Murray said 21 of 24 members of his minimum wage task force, which included representatives of business, labor and community groups, voted in favor of the plan.

“I think that this is an historic moment for the city of Seattle,” Murray said. “We’re going to decrease the poverty rate.”

Howard Wright, CEO of the Seattle Hospitality Group and a co-chairman of the task force, said he thought the plan would have support from the business community.

“While I know not everyone in the employer community will be satisfied, I believe it is the best outcome given the political environment,” he said.

The measure now goes to the City Council for discussion. Council member Nick Licata, a member of the task force, said he would work to get the proposal approved with minimal tinkering.

Washington state already has the nation’s highest minimum wage among states at $9.32 an hour. According to a chart prepared by the mayor’s office, many Seattle workers will reach $11 an hour by 2015. The state’s minimum wage is scheduled to be $9.54 at that time.

Business leaders had pushed for the phase-in and wage credits for tips and health care benefits.

Fewer than 1 percent of the businesses in Seattle have more than 500 workers in Washington state, according to a study for the city by the University of Washington. Those businesses have a total of about 30,000 employees, representing about a third of those earning under $15 an hour in Seattle.

Murray called the plan a compromise and dismissed concerns that he would face opposition at the city’s May Day events, which include a “15 Now” theme.

“I wanted 15, but I wanted to do 15 smart,” he said.

Labor leaders congratulated the mayor for starting a national conversation, which many credit to Sawant, the socialist City Council member.

“Raising Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 reaches far beyond the 100,000 workers who will benefit with the city limits,” said David Rolf, president of SEIU Healthcare 775NW and co-chair of the task force. “Today, Seattle workers send a clarion call to all working people in America.”