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Activists Say Brown’s Wage Plan Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Monday, January 18, 2016

 

Governor Kate Brown

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.

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.

“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.”

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.

Protesters rally in Salem

“There was a lot of really good low-wage worker testimony talking about how Oregon needs a $15 minimum wage. Homecare workers, retail workers, social workers, farm workers, student workers, and more,” Norton-Kerson said.

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

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Hundreds of protestors marched through the streets of downtown Portland on Tuesday, demanding an increase to the minimum wage.

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“This is definitely a moment for our movement,” Justin Norton-Kertson, media chair for 15 Now PDX, told GoLocal. “We’re getting a lot of support from different leaders and groups throughout the city."

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Protesters came dressed to impress as part of the protests "Day of the Dead" theme.

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Marchers in Portland joined protesters inn 270 cities across the nation today, tens of thousands of low-wage workers rallied with supporters to demand good union jobs and a fair $15 minimum wage.

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Hundreds, including janitors, homecare workers, parks and recreation center workers and supporters gathered downtown to call on local employers to provide good jobs and a liveable minimum wage.

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Members of SEIU Local 49 joined protesters on Tuesday to call for a $15 an hour minimum wage.

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Protesters called on employers to increase wages to $15 an hour for at least 30,000 low-wage workers in the Portland area by 2017, organized by a coalition of faith, labor, community, and student organizations, coordinated by Portland Jobs with Justice.

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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.

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Protesters like Christine Eckert, a home care worker, said they were fighting for an increase to the minimum wage "because wages are so low for home care workers that some of us can barely afford the cost of transportation to our jobs, let alone rent on decent places to live."

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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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