Ten-Year Legacy of the Fight for $15 and a Union Movement: Reducing the Racial Wealth Gap and Generating Tens of Billions in Additional Economic Activity


Yannet Lathrop

Matthew D. Wilson

William Lester

Introduction and Executive Summary
Ten years ago, on November 29, 2012, a group of 200 fast-food workers in New York City— fed up with low pay and roadblocks to organizing—walked out of their jobs demanding a $15 hourly wage and a union. At the time, the New York Times described the strike as “the biggest wave of job actions in the history of America’s fast-food industry.”

That “biggest wave of job actions,” led by Black workers and other workers of color, would not stay contained to the fast-food industry for long. Over the course of the decade that followed, the Fight for $15—as the movement inspired by the strikes would come to be known—spread from coast to coast, animating workers across industries to join the demand for higher wages. To date, 29 states and nearly five dozen cities and counties have raised their wage floors since 2012—many to $15 an hour or more. In addition, employers of all sizes—including some of the world’s largest corporations employing tens of millions of workers—have been inspired or compelled to raise their pay scales. As a result, since 2012, more than 26 million workers have won higher pay to the tune of $150 billion. 2 Nearly half (46 percent) of the benefiting workers are workers of color, whose additional earnings amount to slightly over 50 percent ($76 billion) of the estimated higher pay.

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