The Country’s Largest City Is Considering A $15 Minimum Wage


Fast food workers protest low wages in Chicago

Lawmakers in New York City announced a proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage for businesses with yearly sales of $50 million or more to $15 an hour on Wednesday.

The state passed a higher minimum wage that took place at the beginning of this year, rising to $8 an hour this year and $9 by 2015. The $15 wage would apply to chain stores and restaurants with at least 11 locations nationwide. While manufacturers would be exempt, those involved in transportation such as airport subcontractors would be covered. The lawmakers estimate that at least 120 chains in the city would be impacted. The wage would also be indexed to inflation, rising automatically as prices rise.

Daniel Squadron (D), who proposed the bill, said that while he supports raising the wage for everyone, it makes sense to target big chains. “These aren’t those small businesses that are just barely getting by,” he said at a news conference.

The lawmakers face a tough fight in trying to pass the wage. Currently, the city can’t set its own wage thanks to a court decision from 1961, which struck down the city’s higher minimum wage as being in conflict with the state’s wage. Advocates are pushing state lawmakers to pass legislation t hat would give New York cities and counties the authority to set higher minimum wages, according to Jack Temple, policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and state leaders shot down a proposal from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) earlier this year that would have let the city set its own wage.

New York is not the only city considering the $15 wage level. Activists in Seattle filed paperwork this week to put a question on the ballot to raise the city’s minimum wage to that level over three years, although they are also pressuring the city council and Mayor Ed Murray (D), who supports raising the wage to $15 an hour, to pass the increase without exemptions or delays in the meantime. In Davis, CA, activists are also trying to put a $15 wage on the ballot and will need to collect about 7,000 signatures by May 1. They currently have about 1,200. Lawmakers in Los Angeles have been pushing to raise the minimum wage for hotel workers to $15.37 an hour. And while it wasn’t a binding vote, Chicago voters overwhelmingly supported an advisory question on whether to raise the city’s wage to that level.

The only success so far has been in the small town of SeaTac, just outside of Seattle, where voters passed a $15 minimum wage in November. But the outcome has since been embroiled in a court battle and a court ruling has limited the impact to workers outside of the airport that calls the town home, not those inside the airport.

The focus on a $15 minimum wage is a victory for fast food workers, who have repeatedly gone on strike in a growing number of cities. One of their core demands has been raising their wages to that base level. In proposing a higher wage, New York City lawmakers pointed to the fact that in industries like fast food, workers make so little that they rely on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of public benefits just to get by. Higher wages would reduce that need and give them the ability to live off of what they make. A $10.10 minimum wage, for example, would reduce food stamp consumption by $46 billion over the next decade.