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Commentary :: Labor
The rapid success of Fight for $15
06 Aug 2015
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to read Steven Greenhouse's article published July 24, 2015 on, click on

When 200 New York restaurant workers walked out in the nation’s first-ever fast-food strike in late 2012, they were widely mocked for demanding minimum pay of $15 an hour, with some critics saying their demand was absurdly out of reach, akin to visiting Mars.

But this week a New York state panel appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo recommended establishing a $15 minimum wage for the state’s 180,000 fast-food workers. It was a landmark win for an unorthodox movement – the Fight for 15 – that is just two and a half years old.
New York's $15 minimum wage would be the highest in the world

“It’s huge,” said Kendall Fells, the Fight for 15’s chief organizer. “It’s hard to believe, going back to that first one-day strike, with people saying, ‘They’re crazy. This is stupid.’ And now you have Governor Cuomo stepping up to help raise wages for 180,000, people.”

Fells said the movement was intent on charging ahead and would continue to press McDonald’s, and other fast-food companies to adopt a $15 minimum, which suddenly appears more realistic now that a New York state board has recommended $15, to be phased in over three years in New York City and six years in the rest of the state. Moreover, it might grow harder for McDonald’s to resist such demands if New York’s move – which awaits formal approval by the state labor commissioner – demonstrates that fast-food restaurants can survive and perhaps even thrive paying more than twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Fells said the movement would press more cities and states to embrace $15. He noted that Tacoma, Washington, was considering $15 after Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles voted to adopt a $15 minimum, phased in over several years. The movement is urging the Massachusetts legislature to enact a $15 minimum for big-box and fast-food chains.

“This is a trend that cannot be stopped,” said Gary Chaison, a usually subdued professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. “I think within five or 10 yea
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