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How a $15 Minimum Wage Went From Fringe to Mainstream

The union-backed campaign for $15 just scored a huge win in California and may get another in New York.
People protest outside a McDonald's restaurant on Nov. 10, 2015 in Miami.

People protest outside a McDonald's restaurant on Nov. 10, 2015 in Miami.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

By 2020 there will be a $15 minimum wage in effect for fast-food workers in New York City, for employees of large companies in Seattle, and for all workers in Los Angeles. On March 28, California Governor Jerry Brown announced a deal to make the $15 wage standard throughout the state by 2022. Last year, Democrats in Congress proposed making it the national starting wage, replacing the $7.25 federal minimum that prevails today.

None of that would have been possible without the union-conceived Fight for $15, a four-year-old effort that’s been organized labor’s most effective political campaign in recent memory. “On the political level, it’s definitely working,” says Vincent Vernuccio, who directs labor policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan-based free-market think tank. The Fight for $15 was the brainchild of the Service Employees International Union, the second-largest in the U.S., many of whose 1.9 million members work for local or state government or in taxpayer-funded health-care jobs. Since 2012, SEIU has sunk millions of dollars into the Fight for $15 to pressure fast-food corporations to allow unionization, lobby elected officials to pass higher wage laws, and support worker walkouts and mass demonstrations.