The Geographies of the $15 Wage Movement: New Union Campaigns, Mobility Politics, and Local Minimum Wage Policies
Brown, Megan Elizabeth
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The $15 wage movement has grown substantially since the first $15 minimum wage initiative was passed in SeaTac, Washington in 2013. This dissertation investigates the geographies of the $15 wage movement that has developed in the years since. Taking the form of a three-part comparative case study, this dissertation traces the connections and disconnections between $15 minimum wage campaigns in Seattle, Washington, Chicago, Illinois, and two cities in North Carolina, Greensboro and Durham. Drawing on one year of fieldwork and 101 interviews with policymakers, labor union staff, and activists, it argues that the $15 wage movement is an example of a broader shift in labor organizing that has taken root in the last decade, which takes labor organizing out of its traditional location within workplaces and into broader social, political, and economic geographies. This geographic shift in the location, scale, and organization of labor politics is a long-awaited response to the spatial reorganization of work that occurred gradually beginning in the 1970s, which has changed the potential spatiality of workplace solidarity. This study analyzes the discursive contestations of the $15 wage movement, both nationally and within local campaigns, as the campaign seeks to contest dominant understandings of how the low-wage labor market functions. It investigates the spatial organization of the Fight for $15, SEIU’s signature organizing campaign, noting how national-level coordination is carried out (or not carried out) on the local level and arguing that mobility between local campaigns is a central spatial strategy. Lastly, it investigates the politics surrounding the $15 minimum wage policy itself, using a historical view of minimum wage policy to argue that cycles of mobilization are tied to electoral politics and to the politics of rendering policies technical, ostensibly apolitical, and therefore mobile.
- Geography