Last week New York’s Wage Board made a bold and unprecedented decision by approving a $15 minimum wage for the state’s 200,000 fast food workers. This is the first industry-specific wage increase in the state’s history.
It’s a major win for the “Fight for 15” movement, comprised of low income workers and labor activists fighting to raise the minimum wage in all major cities across the country. With a majority of New York’s fast food workers residing in the New York City area, this victory gives Fight for 15 the chance to make a change in pay, where just a few dollars an hour can be a literal lift from poverty.
Now the movement wants to battle it out with big-time retail stores. While larger retailers like Ikea, Gap, and Walmart have already raised their minimum wage this year, their numbers still fall short of the $15 fast food wage. Due to the victory for fast food workers (and $15 minimum wage hikes going into effect in California and Seattle, WA), these retailers will be facing a harder fight against pro-labor unions. Stuart Appelbaum, head of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, believes that these victories are now the backbone of any negotiation argument.
“In our negotiations going forward, we are going to argue that $15 is the standard,” Appelbaum said. “This is a message to retail employers that they now need to pay at least $15 an hour.”
To Appelbaum, this is only the beginning. He sees an increase in pay eventually coming for all low income workers, no matter what their industry.
“People are working hard, and they’re not able to survive while others see their wealth increase,” he said. “The message from this week’s decision is that workers, no matter what they do, need to be compensated fully for their work. When you go to work you should not be condemned to a life of poverty.”