Workers Rally at State Capitol to Demand Minimum Wage Hike
Friday, January 15, 2016
The protest was organized by Oregonians for $15, a statewide organization that seeks to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers in Oregon.
The group also filled the State House during a hearing on the minimum wage. Activists and concerned citizens in the group testified to the state legislature regarding their desire for a minimum wage increase.
“We’re going up to testify and have our voices be heard and let lawmakers know that if we don’t get the minimum wage increased, we’re going to the ballot,” Justin Norton-Kertson, media chair for $15 Now PDX, who helped organize the protest, told GoLocal. “It’s time for a $15 minimum wage for employees across Oregon.”
Activists Say Brown’s Plan Doesn’t Go Far Enough
On Wednesday, Governor Kate Brown released her plan for an increase to the minimum wage. Brown’s plan would create two minimum wage zones, one for workers inside the Portland Metro growth boundary, and one for workers outside of it.
"The costs of essentials such as food, child care, and rent are rising so fast that wages can't keep up,” Governor Brown said when announcing the plan. “Many Oregonians working full-time can't make ends meet, and that's not right."
Workers in the Portland metro area would see their wages rise to 15 percent above the statewide minimum wage, increasing to $15.52 by 2022. Wages outside the Metro growth boundary would see wages increase to $10.25 in 2017 and increase to $13.50 by 2022.
Organizers with Oregonians for $15 and $15 Now PDX said that they were glad Brown raised the wage in Portland to above $15 an hour, more than the group was asking for. However, they criticized the plan for raising wages too slowly and not raising the wages of workers outside the Metro growth boundary above $15 an hour.
“Unfortunately, the region’s minimum wage would not reach that level until January of 2022, a six year phase in. That is entirely too long,” the groups said in a release. “$13.50 for rural Oregon in six years is not fast enough, it’s not good enough. According to a 2014 Oregon Department of Human Services study conducted by Oregon State University, the hourly wage needed for a single parent with one child to be able to afford fair market rate, small home-based childcare without being cost burdened is $15 per hour or more in all but four of Oregon’s counties.”
Protesters also called for the end to preemption laws, which prevent local municipalities from raising the minimum wage above the statewide level.
“What is really important now is to get the preemption laws repealed,” Norton-Kertson said. “Those prevent cities in Oregon from raising the minimum wage above the state level. As long as those laws are on the books, there is nothing that an individual city can do.”
Not Everyone is On Board
Sandra McDonough, President and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, told GoLocal the Alliance does not support local municipalities like the city of Portland setting a different wage.
“Minimum wage impacts communities across Oregon, so we think it makes sense that a comprehensive policy be set by the Legislature rather than city by city,” McDonough said. “We are prepared to be part of a collaborative discussion about minimum wage with the Legislature in 2016."
Anthony K. Smith, director of the Oregon chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said that raising the minimum wage would have a negative impact on businesses in the area, forcing them to reduce hours or jobs.
“Small business owners across sectors are likely to suffer even more from rising labor costs, which will force owners to move operations to places with lower wages, or else cut jobs and worker hours,” Smith said. “The rising push towards minimum wages is a top threat to US small businesses.”
Related Slideshow: Hundreds March for $15 Minimum Wage in Downtown PDX
As GoLocal reported, efforts to raise the minimum wage have received backing from Mayor Charlie Hales and the leading candidate to replace him as Mayor, State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, as well as the Portland City Club. Norton-Kertson cited those endorsements, saying that the movement is carrying more momentum than it ever has before.
Despite the movement’s strength, Norton-Kertson said there was still a lot more work left to be done. First and foremost, he said, is changing Oregon state laws that prevent the City of Portland for raising its minimum wage.
“What is really important now is to get the preemption laws repealed,” Norton-Kertson said. “Those prevent cities in Oregon from raising the minimum wage above the state level. As long as those laws are on the books, there is nothing that an individual city like Portland can do.”
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