It’s so predictable that it’s almost a joke: Republicans are against debt…unless there’s a Republican in the White House. Republicans are against foreign intervention…unless there’s a Republican in the White House. Republicans say they stand for state’s rights…
In its lame-duck rush to push through a controversial legislative package, the Republican-controlled Ohio Legislature made headlines by passing the “heartbeat bill,” an oppressive—and likely unconstitutional—anti-abortion measure that, if signed by Republican Governor John Kasich, would be the most restrictive law in the country. But there was another harsh measure in the mix that flew under the radar: a measure that would force Ohio localities to comply with state minimum-wage regulations that top out at $8.10 an hour.
That minimum-wage measure is, of course, a giant middle finger to Cleveland workers’ attempts to get a $12 minimum wage on the ballot next year, and I think it’s a warning sign for all of us. Because the Fight for $15 has made such terrific strides in cities and states around the country—even in bright red states—it seems likely that Republicans at the state and federal level could very likely try to crack down on regional minimum wages in the year to come. Miller lists several recent attempts by state officials to preempt municipal attempts to ban plastic bags or provide paid sick leave, and it’s not hard to imagine a Republican Congress doing the same on a national level.
Please bear in mind that this is speculation. And also bear in mind that it’s easier said than done: any politician will tell you that it’s about ten thousand times easier to stop something from becoming law than it is to take a right or privilege away from someone. Try to take a minimum wage away from workers and you’ll see workers in the streets with signs and bullhorns in a hot second.
But progressives have seen such success in the years since 2000 on a local level—same-sex marriage, secure scheduling laws, minimum wage increases, gun responsibility—that conservatives will very likely try to do something to halt the progress. And now, with Republicans in control of the White House, Congress, and most state governments, we’re likely to see some attempts to hamper state and city rights to legislate themselves. Again, I don’t have any special knowledge of a sinister plot. It’s just common sense combined with a working knowledge of recent American political patterns.
Ohio looks like the first attempt to shut down progress before it happens. So it’s very likely to me that the next four years will see progressives become the state’s rights advocates, while Republicans argue for the importance of a strong central government. Protecting our right to improve our states and cities could very well be a major topic in the year ahead, and as we hunker down for the holidays and plan for 2017, we should think about the ways we can keep what’s ours and create a path for progress in our neighborhoods and counties.
As long as Trump is open to learning on the environment, we have to push our best and brightest through the doors of Trump Tower to constructively engage him. The more the better. I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised and supportive of any turns to the positive. But the minute his door closes to learning and evolving, man the barricades.
EPI economist Ben Zipperer critiques a widely-cited paper by Jeffrey Clemens and Michael Wither, which claims that the national minimum wage increases from 2007 to 2009 led to substantial job losses in states that raised their minimum wages to meet the new national requirement. Zipperer argues that Clemens and Wither’s analysis fails to adequately account for the effects of the Great Recession.
The Oregon law — the first “automatic voter registration” policy to be tested in an election — is notable for a subtle innovation: It is opt-out, not opt-in. Rather than ask eligible residents to take an action like checking a box to register to vote, residents are automatically registered when they apply for, renew or replace a drivers’ license, ID card or permit at the state Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division.
Four years ago this week, fast food workers in New York City took to the streets to demand a $15-an-hour minimum wage. A little over three years ago, the city of SeaTac approved a $15 minimum wage for workers serving Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. And in the intervening years, cities across the country (including Seattle, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and New York City and states including California, Oregon, and Arizona) have approved minimum wage increases that will put them well above the federal minimum of $7.50 per hour.
None of that is new to you. It’s fact. It’s history. But we can’t afford to let these substantial victories become something that we take for granted. The truth is, it’s already difficult to remember now how far-fetched the Fight for $15 seemed at the time, but literally every part of the political establishment was dead set against it: business owners, newspaper editorial boards, and elected leaders on the right and the left.
This was an unprecedented endorsement in the history of the Times, a watershed moment for minimum wage advocates, and it turned out to be a significant precursor to a historic moment, too. On election day this year, four states voted to raise their own minimum wage. Some might consider the blue states of Washington ($13.50) and Colorado ($12) to be easy wins, but Maine, which split its electoral votes between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and Arizona, which leaned ruby red in the presidential election, both voted for $12 minimum wages, too.
What started as a fringe movement that was mocked by the establishment has become a foregone conclusion — the National Restaurant Association used to send armies of anti-wage representatives to cities that were considering raising the wage, but now they only put up token resistance, if they bother to show up at all. Perhaps more importantly for our fractured nation, it’s a rare issue that inspires bipartisan support (that is, bipartisan support from average people, not from elected officials — an important distinction that I’ll go into later.) And so in this way, $15 has to be considered a model for progressives who are preparing for the next four years.
So, how did it all come together?
It started with a diverse coalition. Labor leaders (including SEIU 775 President David Rolf, author of The Fight for $15: The Right Wage for a Working America) and business leaders (including Civic Ventures founder — and my boss — Nick Hanauer) formulated a new theory of economics based on years of reading and theory and practice, built on policies promoted by thinkers and leaders including former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. You can get a good sense of the thinking that provided the foundation for the Fight for $15 in this Bloomberg piece from 2013 by Hanauer.
Then the coalition needed to show that they had the will to change a political climate. This is where the fast food workers’ strike came in. At the time, blog commenters and politically moderate columnists everywhere were mocking the workers for demanding a higher wage. But what the naysayers didn’t understand was that even as they mocked the protests, they were giving the workers a microphone, and the workers’ stories inspired thousands of people to take action on their behalf.
Progressive leaders have learned that stories are the best mechanism for inspiring political change in individuals. It worked with same-sex marriage — it’s easy to demonize a group you don’t know and very hard to take away rights from a human with a face and a story — and it worked with the Fight for $15. Once ordinary Americans saw that these fast food workers weren’t the imaginary system-leeching “welfare queens” that conservatives like to bray over, or pimply teenagers looking to buy a new sound system for their hand-me-down car, they understood the importance of raising the wage.
Those stories are essential, but the implementation wouldn’t happen without solid thinking behind it. If you were to look back at older Democratic calls to raise the minimum wage, you’d see a lot of talk about “fairness,” about “spreading the wealth.” And it is true that raising the minimum wage is fair and it does spread the wealth. But more importantly, research indicated that increasing the minimum wage was good for business owners and everyone else, that it was one of the fastest and most significant methods to reduce the widening inequality that all Americans could feel encroaching into their lives. Watch this ad from Maine’s successful initiative to raise the wage to see what that message looks like in action:
Though most Americans favor a significant increase, conservative politicians don’t seem to be budging on the minimum wage. The only two Republican presidential candidates who endorsed an increase in the minimum wage this year were Rick Santorum and Donald Trump. (Although Trump has also made statements against raising the minimum wage and even statements that America’s wages are too high at the present level, so what he truly believes is anyone’s guess.)
It’s pretty easy to figure out why conservatives are opposed to $15: the corporate interests and bankers who fund their campaigns don’t want to pay higher wages for workers.
But as we’ve proven again and again, politicians will eventually go where the people lead. The success of the minimum-wage movement is its inclusiveness: you can’t just pass good legislation with protesters, or just with policymakers, or just with legislators. You need everyone — business owners, workers, activists — to come together, set clear goals, and bring those goals into reality. When more people are involved in political action, guess what? That political action is more likely to serve everyone’s goals.
In the years since we raised the minimum wage in Seattle, we’ve followed that model and seen great successes. We passed a secure scheduling lawwhich protects workers from predatory scheduling practices. Our statewide minimum wage initiative also included a provision for paid sick leave so that workers don’t have to work when they’re ill. Step by step, we’re restoring the rights that made it possible for citizens to enjoy the secure middle-class lives that made America so prosperous in the 20th century.
There’s much to do. America’s middle class needs a raise through increased overtime protections. Parasitic employers continue to make employment a government-subsidized race to the bottom in too many areas around the country. The stratospheric increase in gig economy employment demands bold new thinking in terms of the benefits contract. But now that the Fight for $15 has seen such resounding success, none of these tasks seem impossible anymore. We know how to do this. We’ve got the blueprint, and our successes in red states assure us that not even Donald Trump and his band of cronies can stop our momentum. Now is the time to stick together—all of us—and keep working.
Trump’s supporters don’t necessarily expect the world to get better. However, they are a lot happier about the United States than they were on November 7. Change was enough, it appears—at least for now.
Trump’s willingness to roll up his sleeves and get involved in the problems of one American community indicates an obsessive focus on boosting the fortunes of working-class Midwesterners — even as his administration’s big-picture policy focus remains on deregulating Wall Street, enacting an enormous tax cut for rich people, and slashing spending on assistance to the poor.