On Thursday, a total of 30 Senate Democrats joined Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to formally introduce a $15 minimum wage bill. This makes up a majority of the Senate Democratic caucus, whereas just two years ago, when Sanders put forth a similar bill, only five of his colleagues in the Senate supported it.
The fight for a $15 minimum wage has been an ongoing struggle for years, and Sanders advocated for it throughout his 2016 presidential campaign. Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, widespread Democratic support for an increased minimum wage will be important if Democrats hope to obtain the support of progressives and present a united challenge to Donald Trump and the Republicans.
During a press conference at the bill's introduction — where Sanders was joined by Democratic leaders including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — the senator from Vermont stressed the importance of passing a bill that help Americans make an actual living wage.
“The time is long overdue for us to raise the minimum wage, which is now, at the federal level, $7.25 cents an hour, which I think under any definition is a starvation wage,” Sanders said. “We have got to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. ... And what we are here to say is that living wage is $15 an hour.”
Others present at the bill's introduction included low-wage federal contract workers who have been negatively affected by Trump's labor policies. Meanwhile, Reps. Keith Ellison and Bobby Scott are introducing a similar bill in the House. During the last session of Congress, Scott had joined Washington Sen. Patty Murray in calling for a more moderate increase to $12 an hour. Now, both support the $15 minimum wage.
One key change distinguishes this bill from the last one that Sanders proposed. To attract the support of more moderate politicians, the new bill would allow the policy to be completely adopted by 2024, rather than 2020. As a result, the most significant wage hike would take place this July, right after the bill's enactment — the federal minimum wage would increase from $7.25 to $9.25.
As The Hill pointed out, the Democrats' effort to pass a $15 minimum wage bill through a Republican-controlled Congress has little chance of succeeding, but the visible display of support for the bill could push Republicans to more effectively support workers in future. Moreover, the bill's formal introduction comes on the heels of Fight for $15 protests in the city of Chicago, and it is clearer than ever that progressives have no use for a Democratic Party that will not stand up for workers' rights.