Protesters across the United States engaged in coordinated demonstrations yesterday, demanding an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Activists took to the streets in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and many other U.S. cities on the four-year anniversary of the launch of the “Fight for 15” campaign, initially begun by the Service Employees International Union in 2012.
The efforts of the Fight for 15 movement have resulted in increases in the minimum wage in various municipalities for some workers. For example, in New York, where the Fight for 15 campaign began, the New York Department of Labor has implemented a series of annual increases to raise the minimum wage. These increases mean that fast food workers in New York City will earn a minimum wage of $15 an hour by 2019, and fast food workers across New York State will earn $15 an hour by 2021.
This week’s renewed push to raise the minimum wage aims to expand existing progress, both geographically and across additional industries. Many of yesterday’s protests took place at airports, where airport workers are attempting to effect changes in their industry akin to those other workers have won in recent years and enact similar industry-wide legislation increasing their pay.
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour, where it has remained since 2009. Given that the federal government will be under Republican control for the foreseeable future, the national minimum wage is not likely to change. But demonstrations like those this week typically target legislation at the local and state level, rather than the federal level. The Fight for 15 campaign has seen some success in advancing its agenda by seeking change at a more local level in areas with sympathetic government officials.
The fast food and airline industries are particularly fertile ground for these types of protests, due to fast food’s ubiquity and sensitivity to its public image and the national impact that disruptions at airports can cause. Moving forward, the biggest challenge facing proponents of a minimum wage increase will be to continue expanding the progress already made in these industries by minimum wage efforts. It will be difficult for workers in smaller, less prominent industries to create the necessary pressure to push through minimum wage legislation. Union organizers are also hoping to increase worker pay in these sectors by increasing unionization efforts.
However, if enough industry-specific minimum wage laws are enacted, workers may start gravitating towards those higher paying positions, in lieu of jobs where they would earn less than $15 an hour. When labor pressures begin to grow on a large scale, we may see companies voluntarily raising their wages in order to become more competitive, or companies may join in the effort to enact broader state-wide or national minimum wage increases. Still, while thousands of workers will benefit directly from additional industry-specific minimum wage legislation, millions more will have to wait and hope that the effects of these laws ripple out to them.