Seattle led the way in implementing a $15 minimum wage back in June 2014. San Francisco and Los Angeles followed not long after. Each local ordinance phased in the new wage over the course of several years. Though it has yet to pass on the state or federal level, the movement has seen support across the country.
Still early on in the process, officials in Washington, D.C., Kansas City, Mo., and Long Beach, Calif., are considering whether they should adopt a $15 minimum wage as well. Earlier in the month, Long Beach announced it may initiate a study of the potential impact such an increase would have. The Kansas City Star reported Thursday that the Kansas City Council may seek voter input on the November ballot. D.C. announced last month it will test the waters with a ballot measure as well. New York City is also considering whether to implement a $15 minimum wage, but just for fast-food workers.
In addition to the cities that have already passed a $15 minimum wage, the University of California announced last month that the school will become the first public university to raise the on-campus minimum wage to $15 an hour. Democratic presidential hopeful and self-described socialist Bernie Sanders has even introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Supporters of the $15 minimum wage often claim it will help the poor and stimulate economic activity. They argue that it’s more representative of “the living wage,” which is the supposed basic standard by which someone can live comfortably.
Opponents, however, say the idea will actually hurt the poor by limiting job opportunities. How little or how much of either outcome usually depends on the study. Nevertheless, even the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office agrees at least some job loss is expected.
By organizing rallies and utilizing media marketing campaigns, Fight for $15 has led much of the effort to raise the minimum wage in the last couple of years. Though claiming to be a grassroots workers movement, the group is highly influenced and funded by the Service Employees International Union.
The SEIU has been criticized by some, like Worker Center Watch, for using the Fight for $15 protests as a way of bypassing labor laws to more easily unionize fast food workers. According to a report from the Center for Union Facts, a minimum wage increase would benefit the SEIU directly while hurting non-unionized SEIU competitors.
Additionally, unions often seek exemptions from the very minimum wage laws they support. According to the report, “Labor’s Minimum Wage Exemption,” which was released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in December, this is to encourage unionization by making membership a low cost alternative for employers. Los Angeles union leader Rusty Hicks was accused of just that when asked for an exemption for unionized businesses from the very wage increase he advocates for. Now he is pushing for Long Beach to go forward with its own increase.