On July 22 in Washington, D.C, addressing hundreds of low-wage workers who have gone on strike for a living wage, Sen. Bernie Sanders said legislation he introduced that day would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“It is a national disgrace that millions of full-time workers are living in poverty and millions more are forced to work two or three jobs just to pay their bills,” Sanders said at the outdoor rally near the U.S. Capitol. “In the year 2015, a job must lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage and must be raised to a living wage.”
Sanders said he was proud to stand with Good Jobs Nation and the Fight for 15 organizations, groups which have put a spotlight on the need to raise the minimum wage and helped make the push for better pay a cause that most Americans support.
Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sponsored a companion version of the bill in the House to phase in increases in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) co-sponsored the Senate bill to more than double the $7.25 an hour required under current law and close a loophole that has let employers pay tipped workers just $2.13 an hour.
Sanders also renewed his call for an executive order by President Barack Obama to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $15 an hour and make it easier for them to join a union. In April, Sanders co-signed a letter with Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) calling on the Senate to require Senate contractors to provide a living wage, affordable health care and other benefits to all workers.
The federal minimum wage has not been raised since 2009. Increasing the minimum wage would directly benefit 62 million workers who currently make less than $15 an hour, including over half of African-American workers and close to 60 percent of Latino workers. If the minimum wage had kept up with productivity and inflation since 1968, it would be more than $26 an hour today.
Despite resistance by the Republican-run House and Senate, most Americans favor raising the minimum wage. A Hart Research Associates survey in January found that 63 percent of the American people support increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
State and cities are acting on their own. New York’s Wage Board is expected to approve a new $15 minimum hourly pay for the state’s 200,000 fast food workers. Washington, D.C., and Kansas City, Missouri, are also considering raising the wage. Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco already passed ordinances raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour. Twenty-six states already enacted minimum wage increases. Vermont’s minimum wage is currently $9.15.
Ahead of the rally, more than 200 economists and labor experts released a letter endorsing Sanders’ legislation. The letter was signed by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich; Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts; James Galbraith of the University of Texas; Howard Stein of the University of Michigan and others.