New York, NY—The worker-of-color-led Fight for $15 and a union movement has won $150 billion in raises for 26 million workers to date, according to a new report from National Employment Law Project (NELP).
Twelve million of the 26 million impacted workers (46 percent) are Black, Latinx, or Asian American; and of the $150 billion in total raises that workers have secured, $76 billion has gone to workers of color and $70 billion to women workers.
New York City fast-food workers first walked off their jobs in November 2012, demanding a $15 minimum wage and union rights. Since then, the movement for higher wages has become one of the most successful workers’ movements in recent memory, leading to higher wages in dozens of states, cities, and counties; putting pressure on some of the world’s largest corporations to raise their pay scales; and transforming public opinion.
“Since 2012, the Fight for $15 movement has brought together thousands of workers across the country, who organized and called for higher wages and union rights. 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,” says NELP Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst Yannet Lathrop, who co-authored the study along with San Jose State University Professor T. William Lester and University of North Carolina doctoral candidate Matthew Wilson.
Lathrop continues: “What’s most impressive is that workers have won these wage increases despite 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. That should tell us that when workers organize, they win.”
These massive wins—amounting to $5,700 in additional annual income per worker—have made a real material difference in the lives of the nation’s millions of underpaid workers and their families. The impact is particularly significant for workers of color—for example, the report finds that state minimum wage increases boosted the earnings of Black workers by $5,100 annually on average; and that local minimum wage increases raised their earnings by $7,300.
While the Fight for $15 movement has been successful, many members of Congress have refused to heed the demands of their constituents and raise the federal minimum wage. July 24 marks 12 years since the federal minimum wage last went up, leaving the millions of workers in the 20 states with wages at the federal minimum—or with no state minimum wage—with income that has not been livable for a very long time. This is structurally racist in design and effect, as most Black workers in the U.S. live in these states.
Congress must listen to the demands of the workers and communities of color leading the movement for higher wages and immediately pass the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, which would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, with One Fair Wage for tipped workers, workers with disabilities, and youth workers.
“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 exploitive corporations,” says NELP Executive Director Rebecca Dixon. “Longstanding racist policy choices have created labor market inequities, segregating workers of color and women—most of all Black women—into jobs with low pay, stagnating those wages. Now Congress must deliver on the demands of this movement, which would advance racial and gender equity in the U.S. and improve the lives of all workers, their families, and communities.
Along with the campaign to pass the federal Raise the Wage Act, workers in the Fight for $15 are organizing to win just-cause employment protections across the country, protections from sexual harassment and violence on the job, living wages above $15, and crucially, the union rights that will help secure all of these demands.
Members of Congress must urgently follow workers’ lead as a matter of civil rights and racial and gender justice.
This post originally appeared at NELP on July 27, 2021. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers.