Seattle’s path to a $15 minimum wage is a winding tale of effective organizing, smart messaging, and blind dumb luck. It is also a roadmap for bypassing partisan gridlock—one city at a time. Click here for stories of the workers on the frontlines of Seattle’s wage revolution.
“It’s easy to not think about the person serving you your food,” 21-year-old Caroline Durocher told me as she prepared for the 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift at a Taco Bell in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
Sometimes the most direct path toward achieving a national progressive agenda is to pursue one locally.
Durocher had been working low-wage jobs since she was 16, but after five years of so-called “entry-level” employment, she felt stuck. Unable to get a better job without a college degree, but unable to earn enough money to go back to college, Durocher barely scraped by serving up 99-cent tacos to a steady stream of impatient drive-thru customers before heading home to the studio apartment she shared with her father.
“We definitely get disrespected a lot and looked down upon for being in fast food,” sighed Durocher. But she was about to earn some respect.
Shortly after 11 p.m. that night, May 29, 2013, Durocher walked off her $9.19 an hour job to become the first fast-food worker in Seattle to strike for a $15 an hour minimum wage. The next day, hundreds of Seattle fast-food workers and their supporters followed her lead, temporarily shutting down as many as 14 restaurants to chants of “Supersize our salaries now!”
It was an outrageously ambitious goal—a 64 percent pay hike to more than twice the federal $7.25 an hour minimum wage. Yet only one year and four days later, the Seattle City Council met their demands, unanimously approving the first $15 minimum wage in the nation. Seattle’s path to a $15 minimum wage is a winding tale of effective organizing, smart messaging, bold experimentation, opposition missteps, and blind dumb luck. It is also a roadmap for bypassing our nation’s partisan gridlock by rolling out a broader progressive agenda one city at a time.
Partly through its early support of Occupy Wall Street, New York Communities for Change (NYCC, formerly the New York City chapter of ACORN) came to focus on the minimum wage as a tool for improving the lives of the working poor, taking a lead role in organizing the first of what would eventually become a series of national, rolling, one-day, fast-food strikes. It was a bold plan with potentially big media appeal. But what exactly were the workers’ demands? A $10 minimum wage seemed way too low, especially in pricey New York City, but $20 an hour seemed unrealistic. It was at a meeting in Brooklyn that organizers settled on splitting the difference. And thus the $15 minimum-wage movement was born.
On Nov. 29, 2012, about 200 fast-food workers walked off their jobs in New York City to strike for $15 an hour and the right to unionize, the largest such job action ever to hit the industry. The powerful….