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A minimum wage demonstration in 2015. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue/flickr/cc)

As Workers Win Local Pay Hikes for 2019, Sanders Says 'We Must Raise Federal Minimum Wage to $15 an Hour'

"Our voices are being heard, and our movement is stronger than ever. We won't stop until every worker across the country gets the pay they deserve."

Julia Conley

More than five million workers in states and cities across the country will see their incomes increase in 2019, thanks to the push for a higher minimum wage by groups including Fight for $15.

The federal minimum wage will remain at $7.25, where it has stood for a decade. But tireless advocacy by Fight for $15, which began its push in 2012 with 200 fast food workers going on strike to demand a living wage and the right to unionize, has pressured state legislators as well as voters to call for minimum wage hikes. As a result, twenty states and 21 cities will raise wages in the year ahead, with low-wage workers earning an estimated $5.4 billion more over the course of 2019.

"Happy 2019 to the millions of working Americans who are getting raises because of minimum wage boosts," tweeted Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). "This wasn't given to anyone—it happened because we stuck together in the Fight for $15 and fought for a better life."

Progressive lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) also applauded the minimum wage hikes and the advocacy of Fight for $15—while pledging to continue the fight for increases at the federal level.

States including Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, and Washington are raising their minimum wages, with plans to increase them to at least $12 per hour in the coming years. California will increase its minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022 and Massachusetts will do the same by 2023.

Workers in some of the country's most expensive cities will also earn more starting January 1, with businesses in Seattle required to pay employees $16 per hour and many in New York City required to pay $15 per hour.

"The American people believe in the value of work—and that workers deserve to be valued. That's why there's such strong support for raising the minimum wage." —Christine Owens, NELPThe Fight for $15 has "motivated many [lawmakers] to accept that we need higher minimum wages than we currently have in much of the country," David Cooper, senior economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, told the Associated Press.

Voters in several states have also indicated that they've had enough of a federal minimum wage that is too low to pay the monthly rent on an average two-bedroom apartment in any state in the country. Minimum wage hikes in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Missouri, and Washington were the result of ballot referendums.

"Minimum wage increases resonate strongly with so many Americans because people feel like they're working harder than ever but have little to show for it," Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), said in a statement. "The American people believe in the value of work—and that workers deserve to be valued. That's why there's such strong support for raising the minimum wage. People believe it's the right thing to do, and they understand it's one of the best ways to lift the incomes of working families who really need that money."

In 2018, Fight for $15 helped lead Amazon workers to a $15 minimum wage, and the movement's advocacy paved the way for Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to announce a $15 wage for her interns.  

The group also secured a $15 minimum wage for University of North Carolina healthcare employees, Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, and all workers in Shelby County, Tennessee.

"These wins prove that all of our organizing and hard work are paying off," the group wrote on its website. "That's the energy we need to take with us into next year. Our voices are being heard, and our movement is stronger than ever. We won't stop until every worker across the country gets the pay they deserve."

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