Grassroots Fight for $15 Movement Has Won $150 Billion in Raises for Millions of Workers, Study Shows

Yves here. the campaign to secure an increase in the minimum wage to $15 shows you can score important victories even if you don’t succeed in reaching the main goal. And the Covid job resorting is providing more tailwinds. My impression is enough low wage workers (like in restaurants and hotels) went to other fields like construction and yardwork (if male) and less stressful if not all that well paid home health positions to cause shortages and force employers to offer better deals.

But as Mike Elk chronicled, Covid saw a lot of labor actions, which also put companies on notice.

By Julia Conley. Originally published at Common Dreams

The Fight for $15 grassroots labor rights movement has been applauded for years by progressive lawmakers and advocates for its tireless efforts to secure fair pay and the right to organize for all workers—and on Wednesday, new research showed how the group has been instrumental in changing the lives of tens of millions of people across the country.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) released a report showing that since the movement began in November 2012 with a walkout by New York City fast food workers, its work has led to $150 billion in raises for 25 million workers.

The Fight for $15 movement has brought together thousands of workers across the country, who organized and called for higher wages and union rights,” said NELP senior researcher and policy analyst Yannet Lathrop, who co-authored the report. “Our report quantifies the impact of this movement in terms of the number of workers who have benefitted, and the higher earnings they have won.”

Lathrop wrote the report with San Jose State University professor T. William Lester and University of North Carolina doctoral candidate Matthew Wilson. The authors found that with its nationwide protests, other public actions, and lobbying for legislation like the Raise the Wage Act, Fight for $15 has pressured “some of the world’s largest corporations to raise their pay scales and [transformed] public opinion.”

“The success of the movement for higher wages… only reaffirms how far out of step lawmakers in Congress are from their constituents, as they continue to refuse to raise the federal minimum wage.”

Since the movement was formed, dozens of cities and counties have raised their minimum wages to $15 per hour, including New York City; Sonoma, California; and Washington, D.C. Two dozen cities and counties will also adjust their minimum wages for inflation this year.

Eleven states have also adopted policies to put them on the path to a $15 minimum wage in the coming years. In Republican-controlled Florida, voters approved a constitutional amendment in November 2020 which will raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026.

The group has also pushed major employers like Amazon, Target, and Walmart to raise their minimum wages to $15 per hour—results which “had spillover effects on wages in the specific commuting zones where these employers are located,” according to a study cited in the report.

The victories won by the Fight for $15 have been particularly instrumental in helping to close racial and gender-based pay gaps. About 12 million of the workers who have earned raises due to the movement’s activism are people of color; $76 billion has gone to workers of color and $70 billion has gone to women.

“The Black and brown workers leading the Fight for $15 and a union have heroically transformed public discourse on wages, worker power, and workplace democracy—while achieving major policy wins and taking on exploitative corporations,” said NELP executive director Rebecca Dixon.

In the study, the NELP notes that despite the highly effective organizing work of Fight for $15, there are still 20 states—including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee—where the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is used or where there is no minimum wage.

“This is structurally racist in design and effect, as most Black workers in the U.S. live in these states,” the NELP said in a statement.

To put all workers on the path to being paid fairly, the report says, Congress must pass the Raise the Wage Act of 2021.

“The success of the movement for higher wages—demonstrated so clearly by the impact numbers highlighted in this report—only reaffirms how far out of step lawmakers in Congress are from their constituents, as they continue to refuse to raise the federal minimum wage,” the report reads.

Lathrop emphasized that the worker-led movement has won raises for millions of people despite facing “every imaginable obstacle­—from a system increasingly stacked against workers and labor unions, to interference from some of the most nefarious corporations, who deployed well-paid lobbyists to fight tooth and nail against higher minimum wages.”

“But workers won in the end,” Lathrop said. “That should tell us that when workers organize, they win.”

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  1. James Simpson

    $15 an hour is worth a lot less now than when the campaign started. Perhaps raise it to $25. Employers can afford it. After all, it’s workers who create the value of any business, not the owners.

    1. SteveB

      If that were true, the workers would BE the owners……

      Having been on both sides, your statement is absurd..

      Employees are valuable that is true. But that they CREATE the value of the business is not.

      1. tegnost

        you’re right, free money from the fed, not just tax breaks , but tax incentives (can I sell you some tax credits?), refusing to raise minimum wages, stock buybacks, bond prchases, lax regulations, punishing whistleblowers…
        Now that’s how you create value!

      2. Soredemos

        Workers should be the owners, yes. There shouldn’t be any ‘both sides’, because one side is fundamentally parasitic.

        1. SteveB

          So there’s your answer:

          Stop what you’re doing and go out and start a business, hire people as partners and you’ll all be happy. It’s easy………

          I worked for what at the time was the 2nd largest ESOP in the USA. A spinoff of GM.
          It went bankrupt in 6 years mostly because of political infighting. As a very astute recruiter noted to me, after I told him the story:
          ” So GM gave you the plant, Gave you 6 years of guaranteed contracts at above market pricing and you guys F’d it up.”

          Human nature is such that there are leaders and followers. Human nature doesn’t change.

          If it were easy, you would start your own business and hire your “partners” and all would be happy right? So what’s stopping you? Rhetorical question to provoke thought.

  2. Arthur Wilke

    In Alabama the oppressiveness of the $7.25 minimum hourly wage was further implemented in 2016 when the state’s Uniform Minimum Wage and Right-to-Work Act was passed preventing cities from setting their own minimum wage. Prompting this was passage by the Birmingham City Council of a $10.10 per hour minimum wage that was about to go into effect.

    Many legislators, especially from small towns and rural areas, agreed that the Birmingham action would likely result in labor migration to Birmingham and that cities might follow Birmingham’s City Council action, again highlighting that for labor there was to be no “free market” opportunities.

  3. Left in Wisconsin

    Well, it’s great that $15/hour is part of the national conversation now – finally – and that many companies and states have felt pressured or otherwise chosen to raise minimum or entry-level wages, but Fight for $15 is the furthest thing imaginable from a “grassroots labor rights movement” and the notion that worker power has been behind these raises is completely ludicrous. I think NELP does a lot of good work but I find this type of fake cheering for a fake grassroots movement really distasteful.

    I liked it better when it was Fight for $15 and a Union. If there really was a powerful grassroots movement able to force employers and states to raise wages for millions of workers when they didn’t want to, you would think it would have been able to win union representation in at least a couple of workplaces. But I’m not sure Fight for $15 can point to a single local union it has organized.

    Also, as noted above, when does Fight for $15 become Fight for $20? Surely this powerful grassroots movement will not be content indefinitely promoting a wage that is already to little to live on in a good part (most?) of the country.

  4. drumlin woodchuckles

    The more gains they make, the less notice the MSM will take.

    The MSM is damage which millions or hundreds of millions of citizens will have to figure out how to route around.

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