IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The fight for higher wages packs a potent political punch

Between ballot measures and fast-food strikes, the fight for higher wages is reclaiming the national spotlight.
Fast Food Workers Organize National Day To Strike For Higher Wages
Protesters demanding higher wages and unionization for fast food workers block traffic near Times Square on September 4, 2014 in New York City.
Last week, the public received a peek at what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tells supporters when he doesn't think voters can hear him. At a private summit hosted by the Koch brothers, the Republican senator told conservatives that if he's promoted to Majority Leader, "we're not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That's all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage."
Yesterday, however, McConnell told the ABC affiliate in Louisville that if economic growth improves, "raising the minimum wage might make sense."
It was a striking reminder about the politics of the issue: public support for a minimum-wage hike is so strong, Republicans find it difficult to defend their fierce opposition.
Indeed, complicating matters for the GOP, the issue will go directly to voters in a handful of states this year.

Voters in Arkansas will decide whether to raise the minimum wage, Secretary of State Mark Martin (R) said Wednesday, after supporters turned in more than twice as many signatures as required to make the ballot. The measure, Issue No. 5, would raise the state's minimum wage to $7.50 an hour beginning Jan. 1, 2016, and to $8.50 an hour on Jan. 1, 2017.

This obviously matters a great deal to low-wage workers, but Arkansas is also home to two important statewide races this year -- Sen. Mark Pryor's (D) re-election campaign and an open gubernatorial race -- and it's widely believed that having a minimum-wage increase on the ballot boosts turnout, especially among voters who may be inclined to support Democrats.
The non-partisan Cook Political Report's Jennifer Duffy recently told Greg Sargent, "It's important. One way Democrats hope to get their base out is by putting ballot initiatives in states with tough races, to give people a reason to vote." She added the issue is likely to boost turnout among working class women and African Americans in particular.
Also note, Arkansas isn't alone -- similar measures will be on statewide ballots elsewhere in 2014, including Alaska, which also happens to be hosting competitive races for the U.S. Senate and the governor's office.
All of this, of course, comes against the backdrop of fast-food strikes unfolding today in many U.S. cities. Ned Resnikoff and Michele Richinick reported this morning:

Police arrested at least 19 people outside of a McDonald's in New York City early Thursday morning as thousands of fast food workers across the country walked off the job. The strikes, expected to affect about 150 cities nationwide, are just the latest in a series of coordinated protests that have taken place since November 2012, although Thursday's events may be the first such action to include large-scale civil disobedience. Protesters who gathered before dawn in New York's Times Square are expected to relocate around the city throughout the day. Fast food workers have repeatedly vowed to take whatever measures are necessary in order to win a $15 hourly wage and union rights, a rallying cry they deemed "Fight for 15."