In a bid for union votes, 2020 hopefuls rally around $15 minimum wage

By Alexander Tin

/ CBS News

New Jersey increases minimum wage

When New York moved in 2015 to boost its minimum wage to $15 an hour, then-Vice President Joe Biden stopped by a labor rally in Manhattan to celebrate.

"You're going to make every single governor in every single state in America look at themselves," Biden predicted, congratulating New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "It's going to have a profound impact."

But on the cusp of the 2016 campaign season, Biden stopped short of calling for a national $15 minimum. Months later, Hillary Clinton would face criticism for backing a mere $12 in hourly base pay.

"I am sure a lot of people are very surprised to learn that you supported raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour," Sen. Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, remarked at a 2016 debate with Clinton.

But there was little surprise Monday when former Vice President Joe Biden became the latest presidential candidate to demand a $15 federal minimum wage, at a Pittsburgh kickoff rally hosted by an influential local labor union.

"It's well past time that the minimum wage nationally be a minimum of $15," Biden declared.

Long-demanded by Sanders, and fueled by the union-backed "Fight for $15" movement, Democratic candidates are flocking to the wage hike once relegated to the party's left-field activists.

At a daylong forum in Las Vegas on Saturday, a chorus of White House hopefuls made their commitment for the "Fight for $15" clear in the early caucus state.

"We're paying even our interns $15 an hour because we believe that we ought to do the right thing," former Obama housing chief Julián Castro declared at the forum, hosted by SEIU and the Center for American Progress.

California Sen. Kamala Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren all spoke at the event, with some even calling for legislation beyond the $15 threshold.

"We can talk about a minimum wage, and of course we need to 'Fight for 15,' but really that's minimum. That's a minimum standard of living," Harris said.

Nevada's current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour for workers with health benefits. State lawmakers are considering a proposal to boost the base wage to $12, which advocates in Nevada call "a good start."

"In Nevada, it costs almost $19 an hour to be able to afford a two bedroom apartment," Brenda Marzan, president of the Nevada SEIU, told CBS News.

"Fifteen dollars an hour isn't even a living wage at this point," added Marzan.

But Stephen Miller, director of the Center of Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, argued that a $15 minimum wage "doesn't make a lot of sense" universally.

"It probably makes more sense in Seattle than it does in Des Moines. I would say in Las Vegas, we're a little bit lower cost of living," Miller told CBS News.

Only six states — Maryland, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — and the District of Columbia have approved a $15 minimum wage hike.

"In places where the cost of living is higher, let's say New York, Los Angeles, and maybe Las Vegas, we will go above $15 an hour," Hickenlooper vowed at the forum, though acknowledging that his own state had fallen short.

"We did not get to 15 but we will get to 15 in Colorado. I can guarantee you that," Hickenlooper said.

First published on April 30, 2019 / 3:20 PM

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