When fast food workers first marched off their jobs in late 2012 to protest for $15-an-hour pay, their demands seemed as hopeless as they were heartfelt. In labor-friendly New York, where the protests began, the state minimum wage was just $7.25, same as the federal rate. President Obama was still a full year from backing a national minimum of $10.10. In most of the country, liberals had spent the past two years on defense, fighting kamikaze tactics by Tea Party Republicans in Congress and trying to fend off labor-gutting legislation in the states. Doubling the pay floor wasn’t on anybody’s to-do list.
Those marches, of course, kicked off the movement now known as Fight for $15. Far from hopeless, it has turned out to be the most successful progressive political project of the late Obama era, both practically and philosophically. On Thursday, California became the first state to pass a $15 minimum, which will be phased in by 2022, giving raises to a projected 5.6 million workers. Just hours later, lawmakers in Albany struck a deal that will raise the minimum within New York City to $15 by the end of 2018, before gradually ratcheting it that high across the rest of the Empire State.