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An Important Victory in the Fight for $15

While tomorrow will mark six years since the federal minimum wage last went up, Fight for 15 activists are celebrating a big win in New York.

A panel appointed by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recommended yesterday that the minimum wage be raised for employees of fast-food chain restaurants to $15 an hour over the next few years. Their proposal calls for the minimum wage to go up to $10.50 in New York City and $9.75 in the rest of the state by Dec. 31, then increase gradually each year to reach $15 in New York City by the end of 2018 and in the rest of the state by July 1, 2021. It is expected that the labor commissioner, Mario Musolino, will accept and implement their recommendation.

Approximately 136,000 workers in New York will receive hourly wage increases under the proposal, which would apply to workers in fast-food restaurants with at least 30 locations nationally. The recommendation is a big win for Fight for 15 activists, who for three years have been calling attention to the fact that, despite rising industry profits [PDF], fast-food workers are paid so little that many have to rely on food stamps and other government benefits to feed their families.

There have been several other notable actions on local minimum wages across the country during the last week. The Kansas City Council approved a proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2020, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an increase to the county’s wage to $15 by 2020, and the D.C. Board of Elections granted the initial approval necessary for organizers in the District to put a $15 minimum wage proposal on the ballot in 2016.

State and local minimum wage increases have been vital to workers while the federal minimum wage has remained stagnant at $7.25. But for millions of workers who live in the 21 states that follow the federal standard—and many millions more working for a state minimum wage that is still inadequate—a robust federal minimum wage increase is essential. The Raise the Wage Act, introduced in April, would increase the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 and then index it to median wages, while gradually phasing out the lower minimum cash wage for tipped workers, giving 35 million workers—including nearly 3 in 10 working women—a raise. A bill just introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ellison and Grijalva would go even further, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. It’s past time for Congress to take up these bills and debate not whether the federal minimum wage should go up, but how high.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.