Most voters know the Fight for $15 as a campaign for higher minimum wages. But the group’s activists say it’s a broader political movement ― and they intend to shake up gubernatorial races in November with their first get-out-the-vote effort.
Union leaders behind the campaign say Fight for $15 volunteers will canvass in 11 battleground states ahead of Election Day, with a focus on pitching Democratic candidates to infrequent voters in Michigan and Wisconsin ― states that were critical in Donald Trump’s victory two years ago. Their goal is to knock on more than 500,000 doors in those two battleground states.
Pundits tend to talk mostly about the political moods of white working-class voters when it comes to the Midwest, but the Fight for $15 will concentrate its efforts in communities of color, hoping to drive turnout for progressives in more urban areas. The message will revolve around the minimum wage, collective bargaining, affordable health care and social justice.
“We think a path to victory in November runs through communities like Detroit and Flint in the state of Michigan,” said Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union, which orchestrated the Fight for $15. “You can’t take Wisconsin without Milwaukee showing up and doing better than they did in ’16 and ’14.”
The Fight for $15 has had lots of success raising minimum wages in cities and states around the country, both through ballot referendums and legislation. But Henry said the campaign is now recognizable enough to have clout with voters when it comes to state races, particularly in cities where it has already done work on hiking the minimum wage.
The canvassers will include workers from nursing homes, fast food, health care and janitorial services, many of whom are SEIU members. The union declined to say how much money it intends to put into the effort.
The group is getting behind Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, who is running against Republican Bill Scheutte for governor in Michigan, and Democrat Tony Evers, who’s trying to unseat Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Both Whitmer and Evers support raising the minimum wage to $15 over time.
The full slogan of the Fight for $15 is ”$15 and a union,” with fast food and other workers trying to unionize more workplaces in their industries. (So far, the campaign has not led to traditional union contracts in the fast food industry.) Henry said the group is supporting candidates like Whitmer and Evers because they’ve called for more collective bargaining.
Republican leaders in Michigan and Wisconsin passed right-to-work laws in 2012 and 2015, respectively. Such laws give workers who are covered by a union contract the option to not pay any union fees, often driving down union membership. The laws can also have long-lasting political effects, hurting union finances and, less directly, progressive causes. Unions have traditionally been a large funder of Democratic campaigns.
When Wisconsin narrowly went for Trump in 2016, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist attributed the GOP victory to Walker, who gutted public-sector unions through the law known as Act 10 in 2010. Membership in Wisconsin government unions has dropped sharply since then.
Henry said the Fight for $15 wanted to wade into governor races to help restore union membership in states where it has dropped.
“It’s not a minimum wage campaign,” she said. “The fight for $15 and a union is a way to make a demand for the people who are working two and three jobs, [for them] to join together and have a seat at the table and bargain better jobs.”