Fight for $15 Rallies Leave a Lasting Impression

Many companies have increased their minimum pay

By Allen Smith, J.D. Apr 15, 2016
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Fight for $15 rallies, such as the ones held globally April 14, aren’t just photo opportunities. Numerous states and localities have increased their minimum wage to $15 an hour since the rallies began three and a half years ago. And some companies—including Aetna, Nationwide Mutual Insurance and Facebook—have voluntarily raised their minimum pay to $15, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP) in an April 2016 report

“These Fight for $15 rallies are growing and having some impact,” said Phillip Wilson, president and general counsel with the Labor Relations Institute, a full-service labor and employee relations consulting firm based in Broken Arrow, Okla. “Many municipalities are passing higher minimum wage laws, at least in part based on these protest activities.” 

In addition, many business groups now support $15 minimum wages, Paul Sonn, NELP general counsel and program director in New York City, told SHRM Online. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce and the Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce are supporting the wage hike in New York.

The Fight for $15 rallies “have become a national movement that has pushed economic equality to the front” of political debates, Sonn said.

The protests started in 2015 with just a few hundred fast food workers in New York City. Today, those protests have evolved into an international grass roots movement in more than 300 cities around the world. The April 14 rallies were held in 320 cities and in 40 countries. Fight for $15 focuses on raising minimum pay for fast-food workers, home health aides, child care teachers, airport workers, adjunct professors and retail employees.

“Some estimate that the SEIU [Service Employees International Union] has spent $70 million on this movement, although precise figures are hard to come by,” said Michael Lotito, an attorney at Littler and co-chair of the law firm’s government affairs branch, its Workplace Policy Institute. “The SEIU leadership is coming under increased criticism as its enormous financial spend has not resulted in any new members.”

Increases in Pay

Nevertheless, since November 2012, nearly 17 million workers saw wage increases after states and cities raised their minimum wages; city, state and federal leaders increased their wages through executive orders; and individual companies raised their pay scales, the report noted.

Of those workers, nearly 10 million will receive gradual raises to $15 per hour. Most of those 10 million workers will receive raises thanks to the $15 state minimum wage mandate in California and New York. Under those increases, more than one in three workers in each state will receive a raise of about $4,000 per year once the raises are fully phased in.

The other 7 million employees will receive raises to levels below $15:

  • 5 million workers will receive wage increases to less than $15, since 15 states and 24 localities have approved minimum wage increases in the past three years to less than $15, but more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
  • 1.7 million employees will get pay hikes because of private employers’ voluntary raises, including 1.3 million workers employed by McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, which have both announced minimum pay raises to $10. The Gap, Ikea, Target and Starbucks have followed with similar raises, the NELP report said. And Costco has raised its starting pay to $13, Bloomberg reported on March 3. McDonald’s raise kicks in by the end of 2016. All Wal-Mart associates hired before Jan. 1, 2016, earned at least $10 an hour as of Feb. 20.
  • 200,000 employees will receive pay raises to $10.10 because of President Barack Obama’s minimum wage executive order for federal contractors.

Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.

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