Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Los Angeles shows a $15 minimum wage is possible

The $15 an hour minimum wage fight gained some serious momentum last week when the Los Angeles City Council approved such a pay rate for workers in the nation's second-largest city. And those pushing to bring a living wage nationwide are making it clear they aren't done yet.

Thousands protested for a $15 minimum wage last week.
Getting local elected leaders to sign off on such an increase, which will be phased in between now and 2020, was not easy. It took months of back-and-forth with members of the City Council and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to get it done. But the 14-1 vote in favor of the raise shows the measure had broad support.

It also shows, as the New York Times wrote in an editorial, how badly needed it is:
Workers’ share of the economic pie has been shrinking for decades, as the gains from labor productivity have flowed increasingly to profits rather than pay. A result has been an economy that is less resilient and more unequal. Low-wage workers who have been demonstrating for higher pay are leading politicians where they need to go, and the real leaders among those politicians are following the workers.
More efforts like this are essential because income inequality is a growing problem is this country. A report released late last year by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that wealth inequality has soared in the last three decades, with the top 0.1 percent share of wealth growing from seven percent in 1978 to 22 percent in 2013.

A proven way to level the playing field is to join a union like the Teamsters. The labor movement takes a stand for increased wages, raising the standard of living for hardworking Americans, ensuring quality working conditions and better benefits for workers and their families. And the median union employee makes more than $200 a week more than a non-union one.

But that isn't possible for all workers. Which is why the efforts of workers, unions and community groups in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle -- which all have approved plans to increase their minimum wages to $15 -- are so essential.

The campaigns may not ultimately be the same in other places. But they will still result in more pay for low-wage workers. As reported in the Washington Post:
Supporters in other cities and states know that a $15 minimum wage just won’t fly. Some have much lower wage levels already, like Kansas City, where activists are pushing a new $13 minimum wage. Some boosted their minimums recently and don’t have an appetite for more. Still, activists are exploring other options.
The push for a living wage is alive and well. It's time for more elected officials -- including those in Congress -- to join the party.