Movement to Raise Minimum Wages Going Strong across the Country


murray-15New Orleans  It’s encouraging to see the increasing momentum building across the country both at the state and city level for increases in the minimum wage.

            The signature victory in SeaTac, Washington outside of Seattle, narrowly winning $15 per hour has attracted huge interest and unfortunately is now delayed by court action reducing its benefits greatly by eliminating its impact on airport workers there who were the major potential beneficiaries, but there is still some wind in their sails in Washington.  The new mayor of Seattle had won election with the $15 per hour promise a major plank in his platform and within days of taking office took the first steps to raise the wages of the 600 workers of 10,000 total employees making less than that amount to the $15 mark. 

            Seattle is not the only place trying to draw the line at $15.  A petition drive to take a related measure to the voters of the Chicago, led by community and labor organizations, is set for a vote on this measure, even though only advisory, for mid-March that would give $15 per hour to workers in all Chicago-based companies making at least $50 million in profits.  I’m not sure how many workers would benefit, but this is an obvious strategy to target the big boys in the fast food, retail, and similar industries.  The strategy also follows in the a direct line the 2006 fight led by ACORN there that led to passage by the City Council of a $10 per hour rate for big box employers, like Walmart, which was only turned back by the only veto implemented by former Mayor Richard Daley. 

            Taking more pages from the old ACORN playbook there were extensive recent reports of moves by a coalition of the willing from Democratic Party and strategy groups, unions, and others to mount petition drives that would put raising the minimum wage on a number of state ballots where such measures are legal.  The Democrats are reportedly especially interested in states where there are key electoral contests like Alaska, Arkansas, and elsewhere.  Hopefully they have also learned some lessons from our victories in the past in some cases the hard way, like in Florida during the Kerry election, when our measure won handily, while Kerry loss the state narrowly, having refused to endorse the measure.

            These measures will undoubtedly be attached to a wild variety of hourly rates, though the movement towards $10, as the Administration has advocated, seems strong, with $9 per hour likely to be a given and all rising significantly over the existing $7.25 federal level where we are currently stuck.  The only cloud on this horizon for lower waged workers is whether or not those driving the strategy this time around are more committed to really winning these elections and delivering higher wages or only interested tactically in increasing voter turnout for other reasons.  Hopefully, everyone can be happy with putting workers first and harvesting the many benefits that come from winning and the public’s deep support for the need for higher wages for all workers now.