'Our Movement is Unstoppable': California, New York Approve $15 Minimum Wage
'Ten million people will be lifted out of poverty because workers joined together and acted like a union,' SEIU president says
New York and California lawmakers on Thursday agreed to raise state minimum wage to $15 an hour, the highest in the nation, in a historic move that comes less than four years after the Fight for $15 movement launched in New York City.
"There has never been a week in U.S. history when more workers in more places have won a common demand," said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), in a statement on Thursday. "And there has never been a stronger case for why workers need an organization to help them improve their lives."
"Ten million people will be lifted out of poverty because workers joined together and acted like a union," Henry said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and other legislative officials announced that the state would raise its minimum wage in New York City to $15 an hour by 2018, with other wage increases rolling out more gradually elsewhere in the state, such as Long Island and Westchester County.
"Once phased in, close to one in three working New Yorkers—nearly 3 million in total—would receive raises of more than $4,000 per year," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. "For a home health aide or a waitress who struggles to get by on $15,000 per year, that’s the difference between near poverty and a life with less stress and more dignity."
"We are showing the whole country that when workers stick together, there's no such thing as impossible."
—Jorel Ware, worker and organizer
Just hours before New York's agreement, California lawmakers passed a similar measure, which will see the state raise its minimum wage to $15 over the next six years and implement an automatic cost-of-living increase that would raise hourly pay even higher as soon as 2024.
California Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign the plan into law Monday.
Businesses with fewer than 26 employees would be afforded an extra year to comply, while the governor would be allowed to pause the wage hikes by one year in case of economic problems.
Chants of "Si se puede!" came from the galley in the chamber as the state Senate voted 26-12 for the plan.
"At its core, this proposal is about fairness," said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). "This is historic, and today I am proud to be a Californian."
In addition to New York and California, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania also agreed this week to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.
Workers who have fought for the increases for more than three years celebrated the unprecedented wave of decisions.
"California! New York! Pittsburgh! Fifteen dollars an hour is catching on everywhere," said Jorel Ware, a McDonald's worker from New York City who is also a member of the Fight for $15 national organizing committee.
"When we first went on strike in New York in 2012, people said we had no chance, but we are showing the whole country that when workers stick together, there's no such thing as impossible," Ware said.
Over the past year, $15 hourly wages were also approved in individual cities across the nation, such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Lawmakers in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia have all recently announced plans to follow suit.
Adrianna Alvarez, a McDonald's worker in Chicago and also a member of the Fight for $15 national organizing committee, said Thursday, "The historic raises won by workers in New York and California this week show that our movement is unstoppable. Workers are joining together and demanding change, and for the first time in a long time, we are winning."
"We're going to keep fighting until the demands first made by workers in New York City—$15 and union rights—are met not just in New York and California, but everywhere," Alvarez said.