The Equity Factor

Living Wage Campaigns Are Steamrolling Through Cities

Labor activists dig their heels in from L.A. to Phoenix and beyond.

A scene from a Los Angeles city council vote on whether or not to raise the city’s minimum wage. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

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Last week, I wrote about how women of color are on the front lines of the “Fight for 15” campaign to raise the hourly minimum wage to $15 in cities. On Sunday, the issue got a boost as a talking point in the 2016 presidential campaign when Hillary Clinton phoned into the national Fight for $15 convention in Detroit and offered support to the congregation of fast-food workers.

“I want to be your champion,” Clinton told the crowd, adding, “No one who works an honest job in America should have to live in poverty.”

Here’s to hoping that message echoes loudly over the next year, as Americans focus on a national election — and many cities and states continue to work toward minimum wage reform in the absence of a federal consensus.

Los Angeles’ Raise to $15 Is Official
L.A. has become a hotbed of living wage activity. (City hotel workers successfully convinced council to raise their wages to $15.37 an hour last fall.)

On Wednesday, Los Angeles City Council held their final vote to raise the minimum wage from $9 to $15 an hour by 2020. It is the largest city in America to commit to a wage hike to $15. Employers will be required to increase wages to $10.50 by July 2016 and then in four more increments. Small businesses and some nonprofits will have an extra year to phase the increases in.

Home healthcare workers — paid through a state program, thereby ineligible to benefit from the city or county’s minimum wage requirements — are fighting for their own minimum wage increases, which would hike pay from $9.65 to $11 an hour with stepped increases starting in February 2016. Two L.A. County supervisors introduced a proposal supporting the in-home workers on Wednesday and are expected to introduce a motion at a board meeting next week.

Phoenix Wage Campaign Benefits From Grant
The Arizona Community Action Association received a $125,000 grant from the St. Luke’s Health Initiative to support its Raise Arizona campaign to encourage local businesses in and around Phoenix to raise their wages. It hopes to identify 50 companies this year to pledge to wage raises this year, and 75 next year.

“As an anti-poverty organization, our mission and our day-to-day focus is to end poverty in Arizona,” the executive director of the organization told the Phoenix Business Journal. “Among the most important ways to do that is to provide employees with a living wage that can help them move toward financial stability and independence.”

In Maricopa County (where Phoenix and Mesa are located), workers would need to make $14.13 an hour to afford a one-bedroom apartment comfortably. The state’s minimum wage is currently $8.05 an hour.

Looking Back on San Diego’s 2005 Hike
This week the San Diego Union-Tribune looked at that city’s 2005 law mandating $14 an hour for city contractors.

Supporters admitted that not all the original goals of the law — including to create an immediate spillover effect on wages, and to encourage other cities to adopt similar legislation — were achieved. But they also say the change has improved the lives of more than 2,000 workers and raised awareness about the issue of paychecks lagging behind the ballooning costs of living.

The head of the local labor council told the newspaper, “I think the living wage law was the first step in a long-term effort to raise wages for all workers in San Diego, and I think that’s the most important legacy. That victory created a coalition and momentum that eventually became, nine years later, the City Council adopting a minimum-wage increase for all workers.”

Last fall, the council approved a citywide increase to $11.50. That raise could help 172,000 workers if voters decide to approve the measure in June 2016.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Alexis Stephens was Next City’s 2014-2015 equitable cities fellow. She’s written about housing, pop culture, global music subcultures, and more for publications like Shelterforce, Rolling Stone, SPIN, and MTV Iggy. She has a B.A. in urban studies from Barnard College and an M.S. in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Tags: jobsincome inequalityminimum wageunions2016 presidential election

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