Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Progress in the Fair Wage Campaign, but Harder Work Ahead

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Progress in the Fair Wage Campaign, but Harder Work Ahead

Article excerpt

Wednesday was kind of a giddy day for the Fight for $15 campaigners. In some 200 Americans cities and others throughout the world, striking fast-food employees were joined in their Tax Day protests by low-wage workers from other industries. The marches and rallies showed that the two-year-old movement is building some momentum for higher minimum wages.

Home health care workers joined the protests. Adjunct professors at major universities unable to turn their Ph.D.s into tenure-track jobs rallied next to high-school dropouts from the Fryolator line. In some cities, the Fight for $15 protesters were joined by others from the Black Lives Matter movement. Poor people are saying they're tired of being pushed around, whether it's on the job or on the streets.

The protests are not entirely organic. Organizers from the Service Employees International Union have become involved. The SEIU doesn't represent most of the protesters, but upward pressure on wages, for whatever reason, is good for SEIU members.

Furthermore, it ratchets up pressure on the National Labor Relations Board. Unions want the NLRB to declare that corporations that franchise their stores (like most fast-food operations, some car rental services, auto repair chains and the like) are "joint employers" with the franchisees. It's a whole lot easier to organize McDonald's than hundreds of independent McDonald's business owners.

The campaign for a higher minimum wage has seen significant progress in recent months. McDonald's has announced the starting wage for employees of its company-owned stores will be $1 higher than the local minimum wage ($7.65 in Missouri, $8.25 in Illinois). Wal-Mart has raised its starting wage to a minimum of $9 an hour.

Some cities and states aren't waiting for Congress to act on a longshot proposal backed by President Barack Obama to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. Seattle is phasing in a $15 wage, Chicago's will go to $13 in four years.

Some of this may be driven by politics, particularly the revelation that the government pays $153 billion a year to subsidize companies that pay their workers poverty wages. And make no mistake, except for an individual with no dependents, the minimum wage is a poverty wage.

The Living Wage Project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates that in St. Louis County, for example, a living wage for a married couple with two children would be $18.05. They could just about make it housing, food, transportation, medical and child care on two $9-an-hour Wal-Mart jobs, assuming they work full-time. A lot of Wal-Mart workers don't.

Here's the most startling statistic: Last week, the National Employment Law Project reported that 42 percent of U.S. workers make less than $15 an hour, many of them considerably less.

This is a righteous cause, but we can't help but recall what happened to the Occupy Wall Street movement. …

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