Walmart made headlines last week when it announced plans to increase the base pay at their stores to $9 an hour ($1.75 above the current federal minimum wage) in April and to $10 by February 2016. While $10 an hour is still not enough for a full-time worker to keep a family of four out of poverty, it will boost paychecks for close to 500,000 full-time and part-time hourly workers at Walmart and Sam’s Club U.S. stores—about 40% of their current workers—and represents an important victory for the employee activists of OUR Walmart, who have vowed to continue to fight for a $15 base wage and fairer workplace policies. The move also adds a huge corporation to the list of companies recognizing that better wages can mean better business, and more will likely follow suit; just today, T.J. Maxx announced that it will also raise the minimum pay in its line of stores to $10 an hour by 2016, describing the change as “an important part of our strategies to continue attracting and retaining the best talent in order to deliver a great shopping experience for our customers, remain competitive on wages in our U.S. markets and stay focused on our value mission.”
On the state front, New York employers will soon be required to pay their tipped workers at least $7.50 per hour. The increase (effective December 31) will benefit a quarter-million restaurant and hospitality workers—most of them women—who are currently only guaranteed a minimum cash wage of $4.90 to $5.65 an hour. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is continuing to make the minimum wage a priority in public appearances and has also included an increase in the regular state minimum wage to $10.50 statewide and $11.50 in New York City in his budget. Additionally, Alaska’s minimum wage increased to $8.75 yesterday, when the ballot initiative approved by voters this past November went into effect. And measures continue to pick up steam in state legislatures; the Iowa Senate and the Illinois Senate recently passed bills to increase the minimum wage, and a proposal in the Oregon House would increase their state minimum wage to $15 by 2017. (We will be tracking any action on these bills closely, and you can follow along on our state map!)
Of course, action is still needed at the federal level to ensure all workers have access to decent pay. A recent national poll shows that fully three-quarters of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour, 82 percent support indexing it to keep up with inflation, and 71 percent support eliminating the separate minimum cash wage for tipped workers altogether. Are you listening, Congress?