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#FightFor15 Marks 4th Anniversary

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In this composite photo, State Senator Neil Breslin speaks with a WAMC reporter during a #FightFor15 rally at the Capitol in Albany.

The Fight For 15 is a worldwide mobilization for a wage that meets basic needs. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas looks back at the movement which has just celebrated its four-year anniversary.

Often billed as a fight for fairness, sometimes as a fight for racial justice, #FightFor15 began on November 29, 2012, when more than one hundred fast-food workers in New York City from eateries like McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut walked off their jobs in strike for higher wages, better working conditions and the right to form a union without retaliation from their managers.

It was the largest strike in the history of the fast-food industry, and it was a game-changer. By May 2014, the movement was a global phenomenon: fast-food workers in 230 cities around the world participated in a one-day strike to protest low wages.

One year later, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called on the state wage board to consider hiking pay for fast-food workers.  In June he attended a rally in New York City.    "And then you have the minimum wage, which is supposed to be a living wage. When FDR passed the law, that's what he said."

The Cuomo-appointed Fast Food Wage Board in July recommended chain restaurants in New York City with more than 30 locations nationwide up wages to at least $15 an hour by 2018.

In September 2015, Vice President Joe Biden visited Manhattan, where he appeared onstage at a labor rally with fellow Democrat Cuomo.   "Middle class wages are still stagnant, and the working poor are living in poverty. So governor, I applaud you for steppin' up with a smart, reasonable plan!"

A beaming Cuomo walked the crowd through the process that enabled his plans to come to fruition.  "A study was released just this week that showed there is not a single neighborhood in New York City that is affordable to someone earning the minimum wage. So several months ago, we empaneled a wage board to study the minimum wage of fast food workers... they recommended a wage of $15 an hour. That recommendation went to New York State Commissioner of Labor Mario Musolino, and I am pleased to announce today that the state of New York's labor department has accepted the wage board recommendation in full, and 150,000 fast-food workers will see their wages rise to $15 an hour!"

The fourth anniversary of the first Fight for 15 strike was celebrated November 29th, 2016 - more than 320 cities nationwide participated. A new report from the National Employment Law Project details wage raises that workers have made since the movement began. NELP researcher and policy analyst Yannet Lathrop says Fight For 15 has brought significant gains to New York.    "$15.50 to a low wage worker in New York, which is really very welcomed?, I'm sure, by low wage workers, since New York, especially New York City, and the suburbs around New York City are very expensive places to live in. In other places, in Massachusetts for example, there is a campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15. There are obviously several places in the Northeast that are also either working or have already increased the minimum wage including Vermont, Rhode Island, as well as in Maine."

Since 2012, at least 20 cities have enacted legislation raising their minimum wages. New York and California have $15 minimum wage laws in place and voters in four states approved raising their minimum pay in November’s election.

Lathrop says that, contrary to popular opinion, a lot of small business owners understand that raising their workers’ wages is actually good for business in the end. "A survey that was conducted interestingly enough by a Republican pollster, showing that about 80 percent of businesses of all sizes are in favor of raising the minimum wage. Small business owners are more likely than not to also agree that raising the minimum wage is good for them. They may be paying a little bit more to their own workers, so their cost of doing business might go up a little, but they're also going to be - that money is going to be going to workers that are going to be spending it right away at area businesses. So in the end it actually ends up benefiting them because they will be seeing either more customers or more purchasers at their own businesses as well."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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