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Celebrating the Fight for $15: How raising the minimum wage helps build an economy that works for all

In the United States, we have a lot to celebrate this Labor Day. By organizing on the job, in the streets, at the ballot box, in state houses and city halls around the country, workers have made significant gains in raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing paid sick days and paid family leave, and cracking down on wage theft. Recently the Ford Foundation, in partnership with The New Press, SEIU 775, and our grantees the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Employment Law Project, and the Roosevelt Institute, hosted a discussion about The Fight for $15: The Right Wage for a Working America, a new book by labor leader David Rolf. Following are highlights from that event.

 

The fight for a $15 minimum wage is everyone’s fight

Increasing the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of people who need it the most. When people are able to buy their kids shoes, afford a stable place to live, and pay for education, it boosts the economy, helps create jobs, and contributes to thriving communities. As Ford Foundation Vice President Xavier Briggs stressed, a fair, inclusive, and thriving economy is also essential to challenge xenophobia and scapegoating.

 

A new economy requires a strong, 21st century labor movement

As David Rolf emphasized, it is essential that the movement to raise the minimum wage remains part of a broader movement to build the collective power and voice of today’s working class. This will require labor unions and other worker and community organizations to work together to create new forms of labor organizing. It will take new frameworks for collectively negotiating terms and conditions of work, and new, broader demands that respond to the changing needs and realities of workers and their communities in our increasingly globalized, digitized world.

 

A new economy also requires a social contract that fits today’s families and workplaces

The 20th century social contract was built on the premise of the one-income, two-parent household where the father worked outside the home, and the mother took on all of the caregiving responsibilities. That model, which never applied to African Americans and immigrants, now represents a tiny minority of American households. Today, workers who have historically been excluded from labor protections—including people of color, women, and immigrant workers—are fast becoming America’s new working majority. At the same time, millions of US workers are experiencing a shift from predictable, full-time, stable employment to work that is precarious, part-time, temporary, gig-to-gig, and otherwise unstable. And increasingly, every worker, regardless of their gender, is also a caregiver. Our workplace policies and safety net programs must be updated to enable today’s workers and families to thrive.

 

High road employers and employees have collective power

Many business owners understand that thriving and productive workers and communities are good for their bottom line, and have adopted “high road” business practices and spoken out in favor of policies like raising the minimum wage. Rutgers University Professor Janice Fine, an expert on labor studies and employment relations, argues that to make fair labor laws a reality, worker, civil society, and community organizations need to be given a formal role in enforcing the laws—and employers need to be at the table, too.

 

A new economy must be an inclusive economy

An inclusive economy is one in which opportunity and prosperity are widely shared—regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity. Business, government, and civil society all have a role to play in realizing this vision. Together with our partners, the Ford Foundation is encouraging these groups to rise to the occasion and work together to create an economy that benefits everyone.

 

Watch the full event below, and learn more about our work on Inclusive Economies.

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