What is the most successful economic justice movement of the past decade? The fight for $ 15.
In 2012, a handful of New York City fast food workers quit their jobs for a day, demanding that their hourly wages be raised to $ 15, a barely generous sum for anyone living in the Big Apple. Organized by New York Communities for Change (then led by the late Jon Kest) and the Service Employees International Union, the protest sparked what would become a national movement funded by SEIU.
Nine years after this relatively shaky start, what has this movement accomplished? A report released today from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) totaled all municipal and state minimum wage increases since the movement began to pressure elected officials. To date, these increases have increased the incomes of just over 26 million workers, including 18 million women, including 12 million workers of color. Even though the federal minimum has been stuck at $ 7.25 since 2009, cities and non-Republican-controlled states have raised their minimums – with the biggest impact, California and New York, which have each adopted minimums. $ 15 statewide in 2016 (following the lead of cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles).
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NELP calculates that all increases amount to $ 151 billion, which works out to an average of $ 5,300 per worker.
By a different metric, however, the move was not a success at all. Its original and lasting demand was expressed by its slogan: “$ 15 and a union.” But while cities and states can legislate minimum wage increases, they can’t make it any less intimidating for private sector workers to try to form or join a union. Under the grossly dysfunctional National Labor Relations Act, the rules governing unionization are set exclusively by the federal government, where Republicans and sometimes right-wing Democrats have blocked all efforts to change the NLRA so that employers can no longer intimidate their union. – search for employees.
When the movement started, SEIU had hopes to unionize the country’s huge fast food workforce. Forced by the unmodified NLRA, however, the union has not recruited a single new member in the fast food restaurant. Nonetheless, recognizing that the movement was successful in raising the wages, standard of living and economic security of millions of workers through legislated minimum wage increases, the SEIU persisted for many years in spending tens of millions dollars for the campaign – for which its chairman, Mary Kay Henry, would win the award for the first poverty fighter of the past decade, if such an award existed. It’s not, but let’s get one ready and give it to him anyway.