The governors of California and New York on April 4 signed into law new minimum wage bills that will raise the minimum wage for most workers in their states to $15 an hour.
The new laws raise the minimum wage in increments.
In California, the minimum wage reaches $15 an hour for most workers by 2022.
New York adopted a two-tier approach that raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour in New York City by 2018. Workers in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties, all suburbs of New York City, will see their minimum wage increase to $15 an hour by the end of 2021.
Wages for those living in other New York counties will top out at $12.50 an hour by 2020. After that, the state’s labor commission will periodically adjust the minimum wage for workers in those counties as the cost of living increases.
In California, hundreds of low-wage workers demonstrated at the state Capitol on March 31, the day that the state’s General Assembly was preparing to vote on SB 3, the bill that California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on April 4.
The demonstration underscored the worker activism that made a $15 minimum wage a reality.
“Wages didn’t get raised until workers raised their voices,” said Laphonza Butler, president of SEIU California and SEIU Local 2015 at the Mach 31 demonstration. “The credit for making history today belongs to the workers who spoke out and risked it all, the labor unions and community organizations who supported them, and elected leaders here in California who listened. As a result, millions of Californians are on the path out of poverty.”
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the new minimum wage law at a rally sponsored by New York’s labor unions.
When he signed the new minimum wage law, he also signed a new law that provides paid family leave benefits for workers.
In 2018, when the law becomes effective, New York workers will be eligible for eight weeks of paid leave equal to one-half of current salary to care for a newborn baby or a family member who becomes severely ill. The number of paid leave weeks increases to 12 by 2021.
The movement for a $15 minimum wage began just three years ago in New York City when 200 fast food and other underpaid workers went on strike for a $15 an hour minimum wage.
In the early stages of the movement, the demand for such a big increase was dismissed as unrealistic.
But the voices of workers in the streets made the demand difficult to ignore, and cities such as Seattle and San Francisco passed ordinances that phased in a $15 an hour minimum wage.
Critics, however, continue to criticize the new minimum wage laws as job killers.
After California and New York passed their $15 a minimum wage laws, a columnist for Forbes magazine called the new laws “a booby prize” for workers because the job losses caused by higher wages will offset their benefits.
Lawrence Michel and David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute, however, disagree. They call the new wage laws, “bold” and “exactly what we need.”
“Simply put, a bold effort is needed to make up for the lost decades in which the minimum wage was simply eroded by inflation or was increased only modestly,” write Michel and Cooper.
They note that some job losses can be expected due to the increased minimum wage but that the total number of work hours won’t be affected. As a result, those who lose jobs should be able to find new jobs that pay the new higher minimum wage.
“Raising the minimum wage to $15 will significantly boost the overall income going to low-wage workers and their families,” write Michel and Cooper.
A report by the University of California Berkeley Labor Center finds that a big increase to the minimum wage helps underpaid workers significantly and can improve the overall economy.
According to the report, “Higher wages will be absorbed by employers through reduced turnover, improved productivity, and small price increases,” which will be offset by “the increased sales generated by low-wage workers who receive raises.”
Experts are studying the real impact of significantly raising the minimum wage on Seattle, whose minimum wage ordinance became effective more than a year ago.
According to the professor leading the study, “the sky is not falling” because of the new ordinance. “If it was really bad (as some predicted), a lot of people would have lost their jobs and every opening would get tons of applicants. That is not happening,” said Jacob Vigdor to the Seattle Times.
Vigdor is the Daniel J. Evans professor of Public Policy and Governance at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington.
The Times also reported on the impact that the new ordinance is having on low-wage workers. The response of one of those interviewed was poignant.
“I don’t have to struggle as much,” said a store clerk whose wage just increased to $13 an hour to the Times reporter.