“What we’re doing is working,” said Mr. Wise, an early member and longtime leader of the Fight for $15 movement. “We’re a powerful voting bloc, and we will take that power to the ballot box.”
The push for a $15 minimum wage began in New York City, when a group called New York Communities for Change started visiting fast-food restaurants and talking to workers about their grievances. Along with the Service Employees International Union, it invited them to organizing meetings in Brooklyn. After getting together and talking, the workers decided to ask their employers for $15 and a union.
Even though $15 seemed out of reach, the workers settled on it because they thought it would enable them to afford rent, the subway, and the other costs of life in and around one of the more expensive cities on earth. About 200 people went on strike to demand the higher wage on Nov. 29, 2012, and a movement was born.
“Fast food workers always believed that there would be a national shift to $15,” said Mary Kay Henry, head of Service Employees International Union, which has helped provide institutional support to Fight for $15 from the outset. She recalled marching alongside them in 2012 and thinking that the goal was ambitious — because Democrats were talking about $9 and $10.10 minimums at the time. “I remember thinking, ‘Holy moly. How long is this going to take us?’”
Seven states have now passed legislation to gradually raise wages to $15, and cities including San Francisco and New York City already pay that much. In total, 29 states now have floors higher than the federal minimum, according to the Labor Department.
Companies have even joined in, with corporations including Amazon and Target raising their base wages to $15. By the 2016 midterm elections, $15 was resonating at a national level, making it into the Democratic Party platform. Support for striking workers has become common among Democratic presidential hopefuls including South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.
“The successes in the municipalities and states are key,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office who is now president of the American Action Forum. “All of that laid down the predicate that people wanted this.”