California set to become first US state to raise minimum wage to $15

Last year, fast food workers in 270 US cities went on strike to demand a $15 an hour minimum rate of pay

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The Independent US

The minimum wage in California is set to rise from $10 (£7.02) an hour to $15 (£10.60), as politicians and trade unions have reached a "good faith" agreement to introduce the highest state-wide minimum wage anywhere in the US.

The nationwide, federal minimum wage is only $7.25, or just over £5. Twenty-one of the 50 American states offer a minimum wage the same as or lower than the federal minimum, meaning that 3.3 million workers across the nation earn $7.25 or less.

Liberal politicians and trade unions in California have been agitating for an increased minimum wage for years. In part, they have been driven by the 'Fight for $15' movement, which has its genesis in a 200-strong strike of fast food workers in New York.

McDonald's and Taco Bell employees walked out in the largest strike in the history of the fast food industry. That was in 2012, and by 2015 the movement had spread to 270 cities across the US. 

While the exact terms of the Californian deal have not been revealed, it is expected the minimum wage will rise by around a dollar a year until the $15 benchmark is reached, with smaller businesses given extra time to comply with the legislation. As such, the full $15 rate might only be implemented in 2022.

The deal could see Californian minimum-wage workers become the best paid in the world, outstripping the $13.52 (in US dollars) that is currently the legal minimum in Australia.

State Senator Mark Leno said the agreement was not a "done deal", as it still has to be approved by the state Legislature.

However, the San Francisco Democrat added: "Everyone's been operating in good faith and we hope to get it through the Legislature. The governor and stakeholders have all been negotiating earnestly and in good faith for some time."

The current $10 level in California means the state is already tied with Massachusetts as a state with one of the highest minimum wages in America, outstripped only by the $10.50 an hour offered by Washington, DC.

Within California, a number of cities such San Francisco and Los Angeles have already passed their own legislation to move towards a $15 minimum, as has Seattle in the northern state of Washington. 

Oregon is set to roll out a $15 minimum for workers in urban areas over the next six years, while some states offer a comparable rate of pay to government employees and contractors. 

But assuming the California bill does not fall in the state Legislature, it will be the most significant victory to date for the 'Fight for $15' campaigners.