Activists Say Brown’s Wage Plan Doesn’t Go Far Enough
Monday, January 18, 2016
"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.
Problems with Brown’s Plan
Organizers with Oregonians for $15 and $15 Now PDX, two organizations that seek to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers in Oregon, 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.
The Portland Business Alliance, standing with several other area business associations, including the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, the Northwest Grocery Association, the Oregon Business Association, the Oregon Health Care Association and the Oregon Association of Nurseries also criticized Brown’s plan.
“While we were prepared to accept a phased-in increase, the plan proposed by the Governor, in our view, creates too large a divide between Portland and the rest of Oregon,” the group said in part. “It ignores the need for a gateway wage for teenagers and first-time workers, unduly burdens small business and puts Oregon farmers and other traded-sector employers at an extreme competitive disadvantage in the worldwide marketplaces.”
Activists Take to the Capitol
Protesters and activists held a rally at the State Capitol in Salem in advance of a hearing on Oregon’s minimum wage, just one day after Governor Kate Brown released her plan for a minimum wage hike.
Roughly 200 showed up to Salem for the protest, according to Norton-Kerson. Some were bused up from Portland, free-of-charge, by protest organizers.
The group held a rally outside the legislature for roughly four hours. Protesters chanted, held signs and, eventually, filed inside the legislature for the hearing.
“I have college degree in economics and have worked at Kmart for years because I can't find a better job,” said Eric Gross, a low wage worker from the Dalles that testified before state lawmakers. “I still make less than $10 per hour and can't afford to pay my bills." .”
Some Still Oppose Wage Hike
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.”
Business owners on the Idaho-Oregon border also headed to Salem for the wage hearing. Many said that the proposed wage hikes would cripple their business. They threatened to move to Idaho if the minimum wage goes up.
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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