In a huge victory for working families, California Governor Jerry Brown announced a deal to implement a $15 statewide minimum wage. The move follows months of work and behind-the-scenes advocacy by workers, labor unions, and progressive organizations in an attempt to avoid a November ballot initiative that would have implemented the new wage more quickly, weakening the political capital of the state’s Democratic majority. Brown had previously opposed efforts to raise the state’s minimum wage citing concern over the effect on employers.
Once signed into law, California’s minimum wage will increase by $0.50 on January 1, 2017 to $10.50 followed by $1.00 annual increases until reaching $15.00 in 2022. The raise will benefit approximately 5 million workers who will gain an additional $4,000 annually as a result.
California is the world’s seventh largest economy, giving unprecedented momentum to the Fight For 15 movement. For decades, American manufacturing jobs have moved overseas only to be replaced by low-paying service sector jobs. According to the National Employment Law Project, 42% of American workers–and 46.7% of Alabamians–earn less than $15 per hour or $31,000 in gross annual income. That includes more than half of black workers and nearly 60% of Latino workers.
The increase follows passage of a $15 minimum wage in 9 cities over the last 2 years. New York state and Washington, D.C. are hoping to follow suit which could pave the way for a $15 national wage threshold.
This historic victory comes amidst a host of minimum wage preemption laws passed by states, including Alabama, to block local governments from increasing the minimum wage. Many state governments continue to assert that such an increase would harm employment or drive businesses from their states. However research continues to show that raising the minimum wage has minimal negative consequences and actually helps the overall economy by putting more money in the pockets of consumers. A $15 national minimum wage has been endorsed by over 200 top economists and institutions.
A $15 minimum wage is coming. Birmingham was poised to make history as one of the first cities in the South to raise its minimum wage until legislators in Montgomery rushed through a bill to stop it.
While it may seem inevitable that the federal government will ultimately force Alabama to reverse course by implementing a higher national standard, progressive activists shouldn’t merely wait for this to occur. With a predominantly working-class population and large numbers of racial minorities–all of whom would disproportionately benefit from increases to the minimum wage–Alabama progressives have an opportunity to make in-roads into traditionally conservative communities with an economic populist agenda.