Tag Archives: fight for $15

Report: Fight for $15 wins $62 billion in raises over 4 years

The Fight for $15 marked its fourth anniversary this week with strikes, protests and civil disobedience from coast to coast. A report from the National Employment Law Project says since the movement’s launch in New York in 2012, the Fight for $15 has won nearly $62 billion in raises.


“The Fight for $15’s impact towers over past congressional action because it has been propelled by what workers need — not what moderate compromise might allow,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in a news release. “As a result, workers have been fighting for and winning much bigger raises for much more of the workforce than ever before.”

The NELP analysis quantifies the impact of the Fight for $15. Some key findings:

• Since the Fight for $15 launched in 2012, underpaid workers have won $61.5 billion in raises from a combination of state and local minimum wage increases from New York to California and action by employers ranging from McDonald’s to Walmart to raise their companies’ minimum pay scales. This includes the additional annual income that workers will receive after the approved increases fully phase in.

  • Of the $61.5 billion in additional income, two-thirds is the result of $15 minimum wage laws that the Fight for $15 pressed for in California, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, SeaTac and Washington, D.C.
  • At least 19 million workers nationwide will benefit from raises sparked by the Fight for $15.
  • 2.1 million workers won raises in November, when voters approved minimum wage ballot initiatives in Arizona ($12 by 2020), Colorado ($12 by 2020), Maine ($12 by 2020), Washington State ($13.50 by 2020), and Flagstaff, Arizona ($15 by 2021).

The raises sparked by the Fight for $15 are beginning to reverse decades of wage declines that have resulted in 43 percent of the workforce, or 60 million workers, being paid less than $15 per hour.

Across the United States, the median wage rose 5.6 percent last year, the largest increase since at least the 1960s, according to the report.

Strikers arrested during protests for better wages, fight for $15

Police on Nov. 29 handcuffed fast-food cooks and cashiers, Uber drivers and home health aides and airport workers who blocked streets outside McDonald’s restaurants from New York to Chicago.

The demonstrators had launched a nationwide wave of strikes and civil disobedience by working Americans in the Fight for $15.

In Detroit, dozens of fast-food and home care workers wearing shirts that read, “My Future is My Freedom” linked arms in front of a McDonald’s and sat down in the street. As the workers were led to a police bus, hundreds of supporters chanted, “No Justice, No Peace.”

In New York City’s Financial District, dozens of fast-food workers placed a banner reading “We Won’t Back Down” on the street in front of a McDonald’s on Broadway and a sat down in a circle, blocking traffic, until they were hauled away by police officers.

In Chicago, scores of workers sat in the street next to a McDonald’s as supporters unfurled a giant banner from a grocery store next door that read: “We Demand $15 and Union Rights, Stop Deportations, Stop Killing Black People.” Fast-food, home care and higher education workers were arrested, along with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

The strikes rolled westward, as workers walked off their jobs in 340 cities. They were demanding decent wages and union rights. Among them were baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and skycaps on picket lines at Boston Logan International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport to protest.

“We won’t back down until we win an economy that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few at the top,” said Naquasia LeGrand, a McDonald’s worker from Albemarle, North Carolina. “Working moms like me are struggling all across the country and until politicians and corporations hear our voices, our Fight for $15 is going to keep on getting bigger, bolder and ever more relentless.”

The wave of strikes, civil disobedience, and protests follows an election defined by workers’ frustration with an economy and business practices that have meant only stagnant wages.

“To too many of us who work hard, but can’t support our families. America doesn’t feel fair anymore,” said Oliwia Pac, who was on strike from her job as a wheelchair attendant at O’Hare. “If we really want to make America great again, our airports are a good place to start. These jobs used to be good ones that supported a family, but now they’re closer to what you’d find at McDonald’s.”

U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky, D-Chicago, joined striking workers on the picket line and Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia got arrested supporting strikers.

In New York City, Councilmembers Brad Lander, Mark Levine and Antonio Reynoso got arrested alongside workers outside a McDonald’s in Lower Manhattan.


Some voices from the Fight for $15:

Dayla Mikell, a child care worker in St. Petersburg, Florida: “Risking arrest today isn’t the easy path, but it’s the right one. My job is all about caring for the next generation, but I’m not paid enough to be able to afford my own apartment or car. Families like mine and millions others across the country demand $15, union rights and a fair economy that lifts up all of us, no matter our race, our ethnicity or our gender. And when it’s your future on the line, you do whatever it takes to make sure you are heard far and wide.”

Sepia Coleman, a home care worker from Memphis, Tennessee: “For me, the choice is clear. I am risking arrest because our cause is about more than economic justice—it is about basic survival. Like millions of Americans, I am barely surviving on $8.25/hour. Civil disobedience is a bold and risky next step, but our voices must be heard: we demand $15, a union and justice for all Americans.”

Scott Barish, a teaching assistant and researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina: “I do research and teach classes that bring my university critical funding, but the administration doesn’t respect me as a worker and my pay hasn’t kept up with the rising cost of living. I could barely afford to repair my car this year. And I’m risking arrest today because millions of American workers are struggling to support their families and the need for change is more urgent than ever. We are ramping up our calls for $15 and union rights, healthcare for all workers, and an end to racist policies that divide us further.”

Justin Berisie, an Uber driver in Denver: “Everyone says the gig economy is the future of work, but if we want to make that future a bright one, we need to join together like fast-food workers have in the Fight for $15 and demand an economy that works for all. Across the country, drivers are uniting and speaking out to fight for wages and working conditions that will allow us to support our families and help get America’s economy moving.”

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota: “When I talk to people on the picket lines in Minnesota and around the country, they tell me they’re striking for a better life for their kids and their families. They tell me they’re working harder than ever, and still struggling to make ends meet. In the wealthiest country in the world, nobody working full time should be living in poverty. But the power of protest and working people’s voices can make all the difference. Politics might be the art of the possible, but organizing is the art of making more possible. Workers around the country are fighting to make better working conditions and better wages possible. And I stand with them.”

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.


Workers take fight for $15 to McD’s shareholders

After years of lying low, the Hamburglar crept back into McDonald’s ads this spring. That’s fitting for a company that reaps massive profits and pays minimal wages, say the workers taking their fight for $15 to McDonald’s shareholders.

Shareholders planned to meet on May 21 outside Chicago in Oak Brook, Illinois, where McDonald’s employees planned a massive demonstration to present investors with a petition demanding a $15 hourly wage and the right to form unions without retaliation.

The petition, signed by more than 900,000 people, states, “No one can feed a family on the poverty wages you pay. For more than two years, fast-food cooks and cashiers have called for fair pay, and I stand with them. McDonald’s workers deserve $15 an hour and union rights. It’s time to pay your people enough to survive.”

“All of us are fighting for a reason,” said Adriana Alvarez, who works for the fast-food company in Chicago. “Me, I’m out here fighting for $15 for my son Manny. He’s 3 years old and, as a single mom, I struggle every month to pay for child care and keep him fed on fast-food pay. I make $250 a week. No one can live on that. My son deserves better. All of our kids deserve a world where hard work means a decent living. Where we don’t have to worry about hitting the rent check each month and keeping food on the table.”

For the past three years, McDonald’s workers and their supporters have fired up protests at shareholders’ meetings. Last spring, police arrested 101 demonstrators from among the 2,000 who protested outside the company headquarters.

The labor campaign continues as the company, under new CEO Steve Easterbrook, works to overhaul McDonald’s image and menu in order to halt declining sales.

In April, the company announced plans to boost pay for about 90,000 employees in its company-owned stores. The announcement made headlines, but the policy change only impacts employees at 10 percent of U.S. locations, or maybe fewer. McDonald’s in May debuted a turnaround plan that involves selling company-owned stores as franchises — about 32,000 restaurants around the world.

”My overall vision is for McDonald’s to be seen as a modern, progressive burger company, delivering a contemporary customer experience,” Easterbrook said in a conference call with investors earlier this spring. “’Modern’ is about getting the brand to where we need to be today, and ‘progressive’ is about doing what it takes to be the McDonald’s our customers will expect tomorrow.”

Labor activist Melissa Sharpe, of Racine, said she uses “progressive” differently.

“We are seeing businesses positioning themselves as progressive and meaning employing liberal ideas in how they conduct business, how they compensate workers and safeguard the environment,” she said. “I haven’t heard that this is what McDonald’s means by ‘progressive.’ But I hope shareholders push on this. McDonald’s isn’t losing business because it doesn’t serve breakfast all day. McDonald’s is losing business because it is about profits before people.”

Sharpe and other activists, including workers from Wisconsin, say the time to rally in the fight for a $15 minimum wage is now, as 2016 political campaigns ramp up and with presidential candidates in both parties talking about income inequality. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has said wealth inequality “is now reaching obscene levels” and Hillary Rodham Clinton recently commented, “The deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top. And there’s something wrong with that. There’s something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker.”

On May 14, the AFL-CIO released its annual “Executive Paywatch” report, revealing that Wisconsin S&P 500 CEOs made an average of $4.7 million in 2014, 116 times more than the average worker. Nationally in 2014, the average worker earned about $36,000 per year while CEO pay averaged $13.5 million per year. 

“The massive pay gap between workers and CEOs shows what happens when the deck is stacked against working families,” said Wisconsin AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt.

Former McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson made the “Paywatch” report, receiving $7,288,578 in compensation in 2014. However, he was nowhere near the top of the rankings. He wasn’t even in the top 100 on a list that began with David M. Zaslav receiving $156 million in compensation from Discovery Communications and ended with Leonard Bell receiving $20.5 million from Alexion Pharmaceuticals.

“Income inequality is at a crisis point in America. Corporate profits and CEO pay continue to rise as workers’ rights are eroded and wages are stagnating,” said Stephanie Bloomingdale, Wisconsin AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer.

Fast-food workers strike in Fight for $15

Fast-food worker Tim Roach has been doing some arithmetic and the numbers don’t add up to fairness.

Roach works at a Wendy’s in West Allis for $7.45 and gets 40 hours a week if he’s lucky.

That is not a living wage for the 21-year-old man, who travels to work from his residence on the North Side of Milwaukee to the restaurant via bus, a commute that can take four hours round-trip.

So on Sept. 4, Roach joined other fast-food workers in the Fight for $15 day of action. He was a first-time striker, walking off the job for fair wages and the right to unionize without fear of retaliation.

Fast-food workers with Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, Hardee’s and more demonstrated in more than 150 U.S. cities, including Wausau, Madison and the Milwaukee area.

In some cases, workers, with support from labor leaders, clergy, community activists and elected officials, staged civil disobedience demonstrations that resulted in arrests. U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, was among the two dozen protesters arrested in the Fight for $15 sit-in outside a West Milwaukee McDonald’s.

Moore, in a statement through her communications director, said, “I take great pride in supporting Milwaukee workers as they risk arrest in pursuit of a brighter tomorrow for their families.”

In Madison, police arrested at least seven people. 

Other arrests took place in Detroit, Chicago, New York City, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Miami.

Organizers said thousands of workers and allies participated in the actions.

“It’s time to raise the pay of fast-food workers and everyone earning a low wage in this country,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, who said he stood in solidarity with the demonstrators. “Companies should pay their workers fair wages and put more money in the hands of consumers to help strengthen our economy. These companies are super-sizing their profits while their workers are struggling to make ends meet.”

Just days before the demonstrations, the Fight for $15 got a boost from President Barack Obama, who spoke at a Labor Day celebration in Milwaukee. He again called for Congress to raise the minimum wage — various measures would increase the base wage from $7.25 an hour, which is what Roach started at about a year ago, to $10–$15.

A minimum-wage worker on the job 40 hours a week can earn about $15,000 a year, and that’s generally without benefits.

“I work hard. I exhaust myself and I don’t get paid enough to live a comfortable life,” said Roach, who handles a range of tasks at the restaurant.

He’d been attending a culinary school until he had to give that up to work as many hours as he could get. “I need 40 hours a week to survive,” he said.

At $15 an hour, Roach said he could pay his bills and maybe further his education.

The fast-food campaign has the support of major unions at the national level, such as the Service Employees International Union, and grassroots groups such as Wisconsin Jobs Now! at the regional level.

The day of action drew the attention of consumers to the situation of the fast-food worker at the counters and in the kitchens.

And the campaign drew the attention of workers to unions, and the possibilities and benefits of organizing.

“It’s a movement that I believe in,” Roach said. “It is a movement to better ourselves economically, to better our situation, but also to better our whole economy. … It’s a movement to make our whole society better.”

On the Web…

Wisconsin Jobs Now: http://wisconsinjobsnow.org

StrikeFastFood: http://strikefastfood.org

Service Employees International Union: http://www.seiu.org

On Twitter



By the numbers

In the latest Pew Research Center on jobs and the economy, 56 percent say their family’s incomes are falling behind the cost of living.

• 45 percent have experienced one or more serious hardships in the past year.

• 58 percent say jobs are difficult to find.

• 67 percent say the economy is recovering, but not so strongly.

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