Meyerson: The Fight for 15’s Long, Winding, and Brandeisian Road

Labor News

The All-Nite Images/Flickr New Yorkers rally for a $15 minimum wage in March 2015.

Reprinted from The American Prospect by Harold Meyerson on July 18, 2019.

“When the House voted [Thursday] along straight party lines to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, it not only marked a milestone in the battle to create (and in some cases, restore) a more vibrant and egalitarian economy,” writes Harold Meyerson in The American Prospect. “It also illustrated the geographic and Brandeisian course of progressive reform within both the Democratic Party and the United States.

“Louis Brandeis famously termed the states ‘laboratories of democracy’—the places where progressive policies could be tried out and perfected before going national. Today, however, it’s really cities that have become Brandeis’s labs. Disproportionately home to minorities, immigrants, and millennials (who are the leftmost generation in modern American history), it’s the cities where progressive ideas spring up, take root, and become law.

“Such is certainly the case with the $15 minimum wage. The Fight for 15 began with a job action of a couple hundred fast food workers in New York City in November of 2012, demonstrating under the banner of $15 and a Union. The campaign was conceived and organized by New York Communities for Change (a successor group to New York ACORN) in conjunction with the Service Employees International Union. At the time, New York Communities for Change director Jon Kest was mortally ill with cancer (he died barely a week after the first demonstration); to the extent that the campaign had a founder, it was Kest. …

“Like the dog that caught the car, though, SEIU had been so successful in its fights to raise the wage that the campaign, however costly, couldn’t be easily dropped or even cut back. It is greatly to SEIU President Mary Kay Henry’s credit that the union persisted in backing it despite some internal opposition. And to her credit, as well, that the Democrats made the $15 minimum wage a plank in their 2016 national party platform.

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“At a certain point—perhaps 2016, when California and New York had already adopted the standard, Bernie Sanders was campaigning on it, and the Democrats put it in their platform—the Fight for 15 morphed from a campaign of the Democratic left to simply a baseline Democratic demand. Today, seven states (California, New York, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut) and the District of Columbia have enacted laws phasing in the $15 minimum, and some major employers of low-wage workers, such as Amazon and Target, have bowed to pressure to raise their minimum to that level as well.  …

TAP 7/18

About Jeffrey Burman 5040 Articles
Jeff Burman represents assistant editors on the Guild’s Board of Directors. He can be reached at

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