Teachable Instant: Low-Wage Workers' Fight for 15

In this short activity, pegged to a planned nationwide strike by low-wage workers on April 15, students discuss the growing movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.    

Ask the class what the slogan Fight for 15 means. Does it mean:

a)  lower the voting age to 15

b) increase the size of soccer teams to 15

c) at least 15 minutes recess for students in all grades

d) 15 additional words allowed on Twitter

e) none of the above

Answer: None of the above. Fight for 15 refers to the nationwide movement to increase the hourly pay of low-wage workers to $15 per hour.

In the News

On April 15, 2015, low-wage workers across America will go on strike and demonstrate for increasing their pay to $15/hour. Worker organizations supporting the wage increase have been joined by a growing number of unions, civil rights groups, religious institutions and sympathetic individuals.

Some opponents of a higher minimum wage argue that it will force businesses to cut jobs. (However, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office recently projected that a $10.10 minimum wage, which President Obama has proposed, would lead to only a slight decrease in jobs.)  Opponents also say that raising the minimum wage will lead to higher prices that will hurt low-income people the most.

Nevertheless, support for increasing workers' wages is growing. The movement to raise wages, which had been building slowly over the last decade, has recently picked up steam.  Instead of fighting individual battles in each low-wage industry (fast food, hospitality, childcare, retail, etc.), workers and their allies have joined forces to press for a larger share of the economic pie. While Congress has been unable to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25/hour, the fight has been carried successfully to many states and cities.

Among the recent successes:

  • Some of the country's largest employers like Walmart, Target, McDonalds, the Gap, TJ Maxx and Starbucks have all recently announced wage hikes for their minimum-wage employees.
  • In every state where minimum wage hikes were on the ballot in 2014, voters approved the increase. Notably, this included such conservative states as Alaska, South Dakota, Nebraska and Arkansas.
  • Some  cities, including Seattle, San Francisco, and  Oakland, have raised the minimum wage to $12 to $15 per hour.
  • Public opinion (as measured by opinion polls) is strongly in favor of raising the minimum wage.

Groups fighting for $15 per hour have viewed the increases as (at best) steps in the right direction. McDonalds workers, for example, point out that their wage increase only affects the employees at McDonalds-owned restaurants--not at the 90% of McDonalds that are owned independently. Even the highest minimum wage, in Seattle, won't apply to all businesses until 2021.

Quiz: What do Americans think?

Ask students to take this quiz on what the American people think about government action to reduce the expanding gap between rich and poor.

1.  True or False: A majority of Americans believe that the government should do something to reduce the gap between the rich and "everyone else."  

(Answer: True. 43% say "a lot" and 26% say "some" action.)

2,  What percentage of Republicans favor raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour?

a) 19%

b) 38.2%

c) 53%

d) 87%

(Answer: C, 53%, or 73% of all Americans)

3.  What percentage of Americans favor automatically raising the minimum wage to account for annual inflation?

a) 19%

b) 40.1%

c) 66%

d) 82%

(Answer: D, 82%)

For discussion

1.  Put yourself in the place of a low-wage worker who is considering whether to strike on April 15. What might make you decide to strike? What might make you decide not to? 

2.  What effect does public opinion have on corporations raising wages or on governments raising minimum wages?

3.  Should fairness play a part in setting wage structures? The movement for raising wages often cites "fairness" in its public appeals: Is it fair for corporate CEOs to receive tens of millions of dollars in compensation when many of the company's workers get minimum wage? Is it fair for corporations that are making large profits to deny their lowest-paid workers a share in the profit? Is it fair for a society to require a parent to work two or three jobs to support a family?   What do you think about these arguments?

4.  What is the role of government in making sure that wages are enough so that people can afford basic necessities like food, shelter and healthcare?

Optional activity

Break the class into groups of four or five students. Have each group read one article arguing against raising the minimum wage, and another arguing for it.  Then ask the group to discuss the merits of each argument against raising the minimum wage. If there is time, have students from each group report back to the class on the key arguments pro and con.

Articles against raising the wage:

Articles for raising the wage:



http://www.raisetheminimumwage.com/pages/polling (no longer active)