On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 to adopt a citywide minimum wage of $15/hour by 2020. The next day, marching behind a giant banner that read, “McDonald’s: $15 and Union Rights, Not Food Stamps,” 5,000 cooks and cashiers show up at the company’s corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, to kick off the largest-ever protest to hit the burger giant’s annual shareholder meeting.
These events represent the two battlegrounds in the growing war over wages taking place across the country. One strategy focuses on getting elected officials in local and state governments to adopt minimum wages above the federal level. The other strategy involves putting pressure on major employees — typically highly visible companies that depend on positive public relations to gain consumers’ dollars — to raise the wages of their employees.
The two strategies complement rather than compete with each other,
Black Friday saw a wave of protests at an estimated 1,600 Walmart stores across the nation. But for a small group of Walmart workers, the protest had begun a day earlier, on Thanksgiving. On a day when most of the country was at home enjoying a good meal, the workers gathered outside the Walmart Supercenter in downtown Long Beach to begin a 24-hour hunger strike.
The workers were going without food to protest the low wages and part-time work schedules that leave so many Walmart employees unable to afford enough food for themselves and their families. The low wages paid to the bulk of the one million hourly workers employed by Walmart means that many rely on public assistance such as food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing in order to make ends meet. The price tag for this assistance is an estimated $6.2 billion per year in taxpayer dollars.
On Thursday, Americans earning low wages from businesses that contract with the federal government walked off the job to urge President Obama to do “more than the minimum” by signing executive orders that ensure workers receive living wages, adequate benefits and a voice on the job.
The organizers of the campaign, Good Jobs Nation, released a report earlier this week explaining why this change is necessary. As one of the nation’s largest employers, the federal government funds nearly two million poverty-wage jobs that pay less than $12 per hour. Unfortunately, many of these workers never receive any benefits such as paid sick leave and are forced to rely on public assistance, which costs more to taxpayers. We already know these same low-wage conditions wreak havoc on state and local economies. Governments may think they are getting a great deal when they outsource services, but when federal contractors fail to pay living wages to Americans providing essential functions,
On Tuesday San Francisco voters approved by a 77 to 23 percent margin Proposition J, which will increase the city’s minimum wage from the current $10.74 per hour to $12.25 per hour by May 1, 2015. The city’s minimum wage would climb to $13 per hour by July 2016; to $14 per hour by July 2017 and $15 per hour by July 2018.
“Prop. J will provide a much needed raise to $15 per hour for 140,000 of the lowest paid workers in our city,” Gordon Mar, executive director of Jobs with Justice, San Francisco, told Capital & Main. “Prop. J will also raise the bar nationally for minimum wage policies.”
The “Fight for $15” to gain a higher minimum wage for workers began in Seattle, Washington. Voters there, with Socialist Alternative city council member Kshama Sawant spearheading a grassroots movement,
With Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and six city council members proposing an increase in the minimum wage, the issue sits firmly on the front burner of L.A. government. Of course the Chamber of Commerce and its allies wring their hands and predict disaster, and some economists are throwing scary statistics back and forth.
Will raising the minimum wage to a livable income raise prices? Probably a bit in some parts of the economy. Will people lose their jobs? Probably a few in some sectors, for a short time. Will the economy grow as a result of poor people having more income to spend? Again, probably. Will life be better for low-wage working families? Undoubtedly.
Minimum wages should provide enough income for working families to put shelter over their heads, food on their tables and clothes on their backs. Employers should pay working people enough to not require government and taxpayers to supply the basic needs of a family.