Repeal Oregon’s Anti-Worker Minimum Wage Preemption Law

In the past year Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have passed $15  minimum wage laws. Some smaller cities have raised their minimum wage even higher. Unfortunately, cities in Oregon and number of other states such as Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and New York don’t have the right to raise their own minimum wage above the level set by their state governments.

A minimum wage preemption law is basically a law that says only the state can set minimum wage rates. In states like Oregon that have these preemption laws cities, counties and other local governments aren’t allowed to set their own minimum wages. So right now, despite the fact that raising the minimum wage to $15 is massively popular in Portland, this preemption law prevents us from raising the minimum wage here in our city.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is responsible for some of the nation’s worst legislative attacks on labor and the environment, has been systematically pushing for statewide minimum wage preemption laws for over a decade. In fact, ALEC even has it’s own Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act that state’s can use to save anti-worker legislators the time of having to write their own bills.

The main argument used to advocate for these minimum wage preemption laws is that a “patchwork” of minimum wage laws will be bad for businesses and the economy. Companies will flee cities with higher minimum wages for nearby towns with lower minimums. Business owners will face constant uncertainty regarding the minimum wage, and general economic chaos will ensue.

But when we look at real minimum wage increases in cities and they effects they have we are forced to come to the conclusion that these worst case scenarios are complete fabrications. One great example is the city of San Jose, CA. In 2013 their minimum wage went up to $10/hr, a $2 per hour jump above California’s statewide minimum wage, which at the time was $8/hr.

15-Now-manWhat happened as  a result of San Jose’s large minimum wage increase? Did the fact that it was so much higher than the state minimum wage cause the doom and gloom scenarios that were predicted? Did businesses flee the city for greener pastures?

No. In fact, over the course of the next year the city’s unemployment rate dropped by almost 2%, new small retail business registrations went up by 19%, and the city’s restaurant industry added 4,000 new jobs.

Another great example is Seattle. Their minimum wage is now $11/hr (compared to Washington’s $9.35/hr) and is on it’s way to $15. Since Seattle’s phase in to $15 began the city’s unemployment rate has dropped to 4.3%, a full point below the national unemployment rate, and below what most U.S. economists consider to be full-employment. It is also worth pointing out that there is no shortage of new restaurants opening up in Seattle.

The belief that a “patchwork” of minimum wage laws will be detrimental holds no real weight. In fact, such a “patchwork” of wage laws already exist here in Oregon. Even with the preemption law, cities and counties are still allowed to set higher minimum wages for their own employees and for employees at companies that contract with cities. Many, like Portland, have already set higher minimum wages for these workers. For example, Portland recently passed a new Fair Wage Policy that sets a $15 minimum wage for all full-time, permanent city workers as well as for security guards, janitors, and some others who work for companies that contract with the city.

On April 15, 2015 hundreds marched through the streets of Portland demanding a $15 minimum wage. Photo by Grant Swanson.
On April 15, 2015 hundreds marched through the streets of Portland demanding a $15 minimum wage. Photo by Grant Swanson.

Prevailing wage laws here in Oregon are another good example of how this “patchwork” of wage laws already exists. As of 2015, the prevailing wage law sets “Basic Hourly Rates” for a number of construction occupations. Those Basic Hourly Rates are no lower than $21/hr and go as high $38.89/hr. On the reason why Oregon has a prevailing wage law, the state’s website says,

“Oregon’s lawmakers designed PWR law, ORS 279C.800 et seq., to ensure that contractors compete on their ability to perform work competently and efficiently while maintaining community established compensation standards…”

Surely Oregon’s communities should have the right to establish fair, minimum compensation standards not just for city workers or skilled laborers, but for everyone who works in those communities. Because no one who works should live in poverty.

Minimum wage preemption in Oregon was passed in 2001, and was pushed into law by Oregon’s restaurant lobby. It’s nothing more than an outright attack on working people, and on the Home Rule Authority that is enshrined in Oregon’s constitution.

15NOWpdxPlacardwebWhile working people across the state have been been falling behind, the victims of stagnating wages and skyrocketing inflation, there are counties like Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Hood River, Columbia, Benton, and Lane where living wages studies show that a single parent with one child needs at least $20-23/hr to adequately house and feed her family.

There are even more counties here in Oregon like Jackson, Marion, Polk, Deschutes, Curry, Clatsop, Wasco, Yamhill, and Lincoln where a living wage for a single parent is estimated to be between $15-19/hr. Keep in mind that these numbers are based on the assumption that the person is able to find full-time work.

So while the whole state of Oregon needs a $15 minimum wage, even that is not enough in many parts of our state, and it is clearly not a simple matter of urban vs. rural divides. Almost all of the counties here in Oregon that were just listed are rural counties, There are big cities like Portland where rent and other prices have been skyrocketing out of control, by as much as four times the national inflation rate. There are also smaller cities and towns in rural central Oregon that face very similar crises.

We need to raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15/hr, and a ballot measure was recently filed which will do just that, but we also need to repeal the anti-worker minimum wage preemption law. It serves none but corporate interests, and that law is holding back communities in too many parts of our state by preventing local businesses from benefiting from the advantages of a well-paid workforce. We need to repeal this law so that moving forward into the future Portland, Ashland, Hood River, Lincoln City, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Eugene, Medford, Salem and other cities can raise their own minimum wages to levels that actually meet the needs of working people in those communities.

 

 

Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon Endorses HB 2009, $15 Minimum Wage

When it comes to debates over raising the minimum wage, facts provided by data on growing income inequality, economic stimulus, and  real, past minimum wage increases overwhelmingly support the goal of raising the minimum wage. It is good for business and good for the economy when more people have more money to spend, especially when those people are on the lower end of the economic spectrum, people who need to spend all the money they have in order to scrape by. They spend that money, and it so it circulates back into the economy, translating into increased customers, sales, and profits for businesses. When it comes to the economic argument, it really is as simple as that.

Despite the frequency with which economic arguments against raising the minimum wage are used, we have tried to stress the moral arguments for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Again, the argument is very simple: no one who works should live in poverty. Everyone who works should be able to afford to take care of their family without having to rely on public assistance. It is immoral that working people are unable to feed and house their families. It is unethical that taxpayers have to spend billions of dollars per year to subsidize the poverty wages of massively wealthy and profitable corporations like McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Walmart just because they insist on gaining their own wealth at the expense of their employees and their families.

It is this basic moral principle, that in the wealthiest nation in the world there is no reason for anyone to live in poverty, let alone people who work for a living, that has driven this campaign since it’s inception 15 months ago.

Lending significant weight to this moral argument for fighting poverty by raising the wage floor, on April 15th the Public Policy Board of the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) voted unanimously to endorse HB 2009, the bill to raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over a three year phase in.

According to their website, “Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon is a statewide association of Christian denominations, congregations, ecumenical organizations and interfaith partners working together to improve the lives of Oregonians…”.

With their endorsement of a $15 minimum wage for all of Oregon, EMO is truly living up to this mission of working to improve the lives of Oregonians. Jan Elfers, Public Policy Director for EMO had this to say about the endorsement:

Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon is committed to promoting both the welfare of all children and the overall health and economic stability of families and communities. Today, a worker earning minimum wage at a full-time job does not make enough to meet the basic needs of life. Small business owners who wish to provide a living wage are put at a disadvantage by those business owners who continue to pay lower wages. The EMO Board supports raising the minimum wage in Oregon to $15 over a three year time period. Valuing workers for the service they provide is an important step towards economic justice.”

 

New 15 Now Oregon Statewide Website

The movement for a $15 minimum wage in Oregon continues to grow well beyond the boundaries of the Portland metro area. With chapters in Eugene, Ashland, La Grande and other Oregon cities, with help from organizations like the Rural Organizing Project, and with a newly filed ballot measure for a statewide $15 minimum wage, the Fight for $15 has truly become a statewide movement here in Oregon.

Now there is a new website that you can visit to stay up to date on  the struggle for a living wage all over Oregon. Visit www.15noworegon.org to see what’s going on around the state and how you can get involved in the Fight for $15 in your community!

Unions Must Step Up: How A $15 Minimum Wage Helps All Workers

(First published on CounterPunch)

Giant corporations and the wealthy are naturally united in their hatred of the $15 minimum wage. Surprising, however, is the strong opposition sometimes encountered by workers who make barely above $15 an hour.

The anti-$15 logic of these workers varies. Some simply repeat the misinformation they hear on the media, that a higher minimum wage would cause mass inflation and unemployment, regardless of the fact that — according to the U.S. Department of Labor — there is no evidence to support these claims.

Some workers against $15 say such an increase isn’t fair, since they haven’t had a raise in years and have worked hard to get what little they have. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly untrue that people “get ahead” when they work hard. The economy has fundamentally shifted in the last 30 years to the point where the average fast food worker is now 29 years old.

Hundreds march through the streets of Portland on April 15 demand a $15 minimum wage. Photo by Hyung Nam.
Hundreds march through the streets of Portland, OR on April 15 demand a $15 minimum wage. Photo by Hyung Nam.

Opportunities to earn a living wage have shrunk exponentially.  According to a recent study 43 percent of the U.S. workforce earns under $15 an hour. There are simply not enough high wage jobs to leap into; the leaping is now going in the opposite direction.

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Oregonians for 15 Files Ballot Measure for a Statewide $15 Minimum Wage

Building on momentum from the packed minimum wage hearing in Salem on April 13th, and from huge rallies for $15 in Portland and at worksites across the state on April 15th as part of a national day of action, Oregonians for 15 filed today with the State Elections Division for a ballot measure that would raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2019.
Two bills in the legislature for $15, HB 2009 and SB 610, have attracted massive grassroots support and media attention over the last few months, but political leaders such as Peter Courtney (D-Salem) have indicated that the legislature will not raise the minimum wage this session.
Chief Petitioner Jamie Partridge filing for $15 minimum wage ballot initiative in Oregon.
Chief Petitioner Jamie Partridge filing for $15 minimum wage ballot initiative in Oregon.

“Working people are becoming increasingly impatient with legislators’ inability to act” said 15 Now Oregon member and chief petitioner Jamie Partridge. “If the legislature won’t do the right thing, then we’ll take $15 to a vote of the people.” Other chief petitioners for the initiative are Marcy Westerling, founder of the Rural Organizing Project, and Ramon Ramirez, president of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United).

David Carlson, a low-wage pizza chef who lives in Aloha, Washington County, was happy to hear the news about the measure for a $15 minimum wage, “I think it’s great. I have bills to pay. If the legislature is going to drag its feet, then the people should get the chance to vote on it.” 
Windy Wiebke, a single mother who works as a night custodian at South Eugene High School, added, “I’ve worked here for six and a half years and I still make less than $15. I’m not some kid just starting out. My rent won’t wait. $12 or $13 isn’t enough for me and my family to survive. I need $15 now.”
One of the most frequent questions raised by opponents at Monday’s minimum wage hearings was what effect an increase to $15 might have on small businesses. When asked about the ballot measure and how a $15 minimum wage would effect her business, Marci Pelletier, owner of Schwop retail boutique in Portland, said, “It’s heartening to hear about Friday’s $15 ballot measure filing. I think I speak for many small business leaders who are getting impatient as the legislature fails to act on a measure that would put cash in the hands of my future customers while giving hundreds of thousands of working Oregonians a chance to get out of poverty.”
15 Now Oregon Statewide Organizing Director Kristi Wright expressed optimism about the ballot measure, “This is a big undertaking, but we know we have strong support from our community. Oregonians are pioneers, and together we’ll make our state the first to end poverty wages.”
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We are going to fight for working people like David and Windy, and for our small business owners too! Our next step is to collect 1,000 valid signatures to get the Secretary of State to draft the ballot title. Once that is done we can begin collecting the over 88,000 valid signatures we’ll need to qualify for the 2016 ballot.
Kristi is right, this is a big undertaking, and it’s going to take a lot of resources. Big business is going to spend millions to try and stop us. But with your help, if we all unite together, there is no stopping us!
 

Portland Joins National Day of Action For $15 Minimum Wage With Huge Downtown March

The national movement for a $15 minimum wage has come to Portland. Building on momentum from Monday’s packed minimum wage hearing in Salem and the announcement that 15 Now Oregon will file a ballot measure for a statewide $15 minimum wage, over 400 community members and workers marched through downtown Portland as part of a historic national day of awareness, action, and strikes for $15 taking place in over 200 cities in the U.S. and countries around the world.

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Demonstrators outside of Portland City Hall. Photo by Hyung Nam.

From Portland’s City Hall to Oregon’s Capitol, workers and a growing group of supporters have been calling on decision makers to give working families a fair shot by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. In February, Portland’s City Council heard the message loud and clear, unanimously passing a $15 an hour minimum wage for all full-time City workers and contracted workers. Multnomah County also raised the minimum wage for all it’s employees to $15 an hour last December.

City workers, home care workers, food service workers, early childhood educatos, janitors and more joined in today’s march demanding $15. After a brief rally at O’Bryant Square, the march went straight across the street to the Pittock Building where they took over and shut down the lobby, releasing balloons and chanting in solidarity with janitors who work in the building.

Photo by Nicholas Caleb
Demonstrators shut down the Pittock Building in downtown Portland, OR. Photo by Nicholas Caleb
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Photo by Justin Norton-Kertson

Janitors in Portland recently announced their support for a $15minimum wage as part of their nationwide “Raise America” campaign. Mark Medina, a local janitor and member of SEIU Local 49 said, “We’re standing together – in Portland and across the country – as part of our Raise America campaign for a fair minimum wage. Workers in our community can’t wait. The landlord doesn’t wait and the electric company doesn’t wait, so neither can we. That’s why janitors are coming together and joining other workers across the country to fight for $15 and a union”

As demonstrators take over the PSU cafeteria, Amarak food service worker and president of AFSCME Local 1336, Nicole Straub, talks about trying to pay bills and tuition on low-wage jobs.
As demonstrators take over the PSU cafeteria, Amarak food service worker and president of AFSCME Local 1336, Nicole Straub, talks about trying to pay bills and tuition on low-wage jobs.

The demonstrated marched through downtown streets clogging traffic and  targeting other low-wage employers including the City of Portland, which left some 2,000 part-time, seasonal, and temporary city workers out of it’s recent raise to $15, Aramark, which contracts low-wage food service workers at Portland State University, and PSU itself, which pays poverty wages to childcare and other classified staff.

We asked some low wage workers why they are fighting for a $15 minimum wage. Here is what they had to say:

“The $10 dollars an hour I earn does not go far enough to cover my groceries and bills. I go to two different food banks once a month just to have enough food for the month. I provide great care that seniors need and I work full time, I should be able to pay my bills. A $15 minimum wage would allow me to get out of survivor mode and stop depending on food banks.”
-Paula Likes, Homecare Worker.

“Portland State University Aramark workers are joining the $15 minimum wage fight. Workers are struggling to make ends meet even with two or three jobs. By raising the minimum wage, hardworking families have a fair shot at getting ahead. We urged PSU and Aramark to do the right thing.” -Nicole Stroup is a cook and the president of Aramark AFSCME Union Local 1336.

“For the past eighteen years I provided holistic care and education to children in the most critical years of their development. I earned a Montessori teaching certificate from the Montessori Institute of America, as well as a Child and Family Studies BA from Portland State University. I now work at Helen Gordon Child Development Center at Portland State University. After working hard for two decades teaching and advocating as an early childhood educator, I earn $13.82 an hour. I am a professional in a vital field, unfortunately early childhood educators are some of the lowest paid, albeit hard working and talented individuals out there. A living wage for early childhood educators is not radical, it is sensible. Paying early educators a living wage does not only improve life for young children it would ensure that a historically undervalued workforce made up of mostly women would have a chance to support their own families without being forced to be dependent upon spouses or public services.” -Christine Palmer, Associate Teacher-Portland State University.

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Demonstrators for a $15 minimum wage march through the streets of downtown Portland. Photo by Nicholas Caleb

Help 15 Now PDX continue to build the movement for a $15 minimum wage. Help us continue to lead a movement that can win more and bigger victories for Oregon’s working families. Make a donation and become a monthly sustainer of the campaign today, and sign up to be a volunteer!

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Photo by Deborah Norton-Kertson
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Photo by Grant Swanson
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Photo by Grant Swanson
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Photo by Grant Swanson
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Photo by Grant Swanson
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Photo by Deborah Norton-Kertson
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Photo by Hyung Nam
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Photo Deborah Norton-Kertson
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Photo by Tiffany Kraft

 

Hundreds of Supporters Attend Hearing in Salem, 15 Now Oregon Announces Ballot Measure

On Monday evening at the Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem, community groups, labor unions, low-wage workers, and activists from throughout the state flooded the committee hearing room and spilled into overflow rooms to express strong support for a bill that would raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over three years.

Click here to watch the hearing

Seattle and San Francisco both approved a minimum wage of $15 last year, and Oregon would be the first state to follow suit. At a press conference before the hearing, 15 Now Oregon representatives announced plans to file for a ballot measure this week, and to begin collecting signatures to qualify for the 2016 election.

Photo by Teresa Roberts
Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek with $15 supporters. Photo by Teresa Roberts

Supporters of a $15 minimum wage urged legislators to initiate a floor vote on SB 610, and expressed concern that big business lobbyists were working behind the scenes to kill the bill. Dozens wore red T-shirts while hundreds more wore green buttons, all emblazoned with the 15 Now Oregon logo.

The hearing involved a joint session of the House Business and Labor Committee and the Senate Workforce Committee, where all the minimum wage bills were addressed. For hours, people testified about the need for a minimum wage high enough to get hardworking Oregonians out of poverty and off public assistance.

I have nothing but empathy for the majority of low-wage workers as I make significantly more at $13 an hour, and live with the food insecurity and financial insecurity of poverty,” said Sarah Kowaleski, who is a part-time worker for the City of Portland at the Multnomah County Arts Center. “I am a city employee, a public servant. $15 an hour would make my economic life and work as a public servant sustainable.”

Photo by Deborah Norton-Kertson
Photo by Deborah Norton-Kertson

Beforehand in the rotunda, a volunteer dressed as Ronald McDonald taunted supporters about paying lobbyists to kill the bill for a $15 minimum wage. Representatives from 15 Now Oregon used the opportunity to announce plans to file for a ballot measure on Friday, and called on

15 Now Oregon announces they are filing a ballot measure for $15 in Oregon. Photo by  Deborah Norton-Kertson.
15 Now Oregon announces they are filing a ballot measure for $15 in Oregon. Photo by Deborah Norton-Kertson.

specific legislators to take action. “Tina Kotek, Richard Devlin, Peter Courtney, and Kate Brown, will you stand with Oregon’s working families on this issue, or will you stand with McDonalds and other big businesses that pad their profits by paying poverty wages?” said Statewide Organizing Director Kristi Wright, as the crowd cheered while supporters unfurled a 15 Now banner.

Supporters of a $15 minimum wage hang a banner over the rotunda in the Oregon State Capitol Building. Photo by Deborah Norton-Kertson.
Supporters of a $15 minimum wage hang a banner over the rotunda in the Oregon State Capitol Building. Photo by Deborah Norton-Kertson.

Recent research has shown that a $15 minimum wage would will benefit the economy in general, and small businesses in particular. The Oregon Center for Public Policy found that a $15 minimum wage would create a pathway for working families to be more self-sufficient. This study directly refutes the “benefits cliff” argument raised by opponents of a higher minimum wage, who claim that the loss of public benefits for some workers would cancel out wage gains. In addition, OCPP found that a minimum wage increase would bolster small businesses, giving customers an additional $3 billion to spend, while also increasing worker productivity. The study states that “[a] better-paid worker is a better customer for small businesses.”

Supporters of a $15 minimum wage packed multiple overflow rooms. Photo by Jamie Partridge.
Supporters of a $15 minimum wage packed multiple overflow rooms. Photo by Jamie Partridge.

Stephen Michael of the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, a network of over 2,500 small business owners, agreed. “Too many Oregonians making up a sizable share of the full-time workforce remain dependent on public assistance programs, while corporate CEOs take home record profits,” he said. “Small business owners understand that a vibrant local economy is sustained by a virtuous cycle in which workers also play an important role as consumers.” The Main Street Alliance of Oregon has endorsed a $15 minimum wage.

Supporters of $15 traveled from all over the state to attend the legislative hearing. Photo by Jamie Partridge.
Supporters of $15 traveled from all over the state to attend the legislative hearing. Photo by Jamie Partridge.

15 Now Oregon is an independent community organization with active volunteers in Portland, Salem, Medford, Eugene, and elsewhere throughout the state. More than 80 labor unions, community groups, and small businesses in Oregon have endorsed a $15 minimum wage. To find out more, visit 15noworegon.org.

If Courtney kills bill, $15 minimum wage will go to the ballot

By Kristi Wright, 15 Now Oregon Statewide Organizing Director

In his March 26 article “$15 minimum wage bill dead in Oregon Senate,” Greg Stiles reports on what 15 Now Oregon has known all session. Since we first contacted Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, in December 2014, he has said he won’t allow SB 610 to come to the floor for a vote. As over half a million hardworking Oregonians struggle to get by on poverty wages, the fight for $15 will continue despite Courtney’s obstructionism.

Courtney says that raising the minimum wage to $15 over three years will harm our small-business economy. This fear is common throughout modern history, but it is not grounded in the facts. The Oregon Center for Public Policy reports that there is precedent for a wage increase of this size in Oregon, and that our state economy did well. That’s because when working families have more money to spend, they spend more money at local businesses.

15 Now Oregon had this bill drafted and submitted knowing that the chances of it passing through the Legislature were slim to none. We sought to inspire a serious conversation about a minimum wage high enough to get hardworking Oregonians out of poverty and off public assistance, and in that we succeeded. Our campaign for a $15 minimum wage has captured the public imagination, and started discussions at dinner tables from La Grande to Coos Bay.

 

Dont_Kill_billWe see this enthusiasm because working families have fallen behind as wages have failed to keep up with the cost of living. It is not because our economy is “slowly recovering,” as Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce CEO Brad Hicks claims: in fact, the Oregon Center for Public Policy says that our state economy is growing at three times the national rate. Business is better than ever, and it’s time for Oregonians to collect the living wage they have earned.

Hicks repeats the discredited claim that Seattle’s phased-in minimum wage increase is costing the city small businesses and jobs. In an article titled “Local facts no match for national fiction on $15 minimum wage issue,” the Seattle Times called this claim “bogus” and quoted the owners of the businesses in question, who denied that the minimum wage caused or was at all associated with the closures. Hicks’ statements may fit his ideology, but they are inconsistent with the evidence.

Democrats like Courtney act as if paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage are mutually exclusive propositions. This shows how out of touch they are with working families. In a state where half of new jobs pay less than a living wage, and where there are nine job-seekers for every available living-wage job, hard work is no longer enough to get ahead. Oregonians deserve paid sick leave and a living wage, because no one who works should live in poverty.

The fight for $15 is alive and stronger than ever. 15 Now Oregon is organizing communities in Medford, Portland, and elsewhere throughout the state. Hundreds will attend the hearing in Salem on April 13 and demand a floor vote on a $15 minimum wage. If Peter Courtney will not provide real leadership on this important issue, then 15 Now Oregon will take it to the ballot in 2016. SB 610 may be doomed, but the fight for $15 will continue until we win.

(This article was first published as a Guest Opinion in the Medford Mail Tribune on Sunday April 5, 2015)

Fight “Right to Work” in Oregon With “$15 and a Union”

In Oregon Democrats dominate all branches of politics. Yet the labor unions are still terrified. There is justifiable dread that anti-union “Right to Work” laws will be purchased into existence by out-of-state billionaires championing the laws around the country.
This threat recently reared its head in Oregon, when anti-union groups announced that they are planning on launching a voter initiative in 2016 to apply “Right to Work” laws to Oregon’s public sector unions in an effort to decapitate the labor movement.
Fortunately, an antidote to Right to Work is also being publicly debated in Oregon, where there is pending legislation to push the state’s minimum wage to $15. Labor unions, churches and community groups across the state have embraced $15, after having watched the successful $15 campaigns in neighboring Seattle and San Francisco. Where $15 has been won, the labor movement has been exponentially strengthened as a result. 
But Oregon’s $15 legislation is in danger. It’s in the hands of Democrats who seem intent on killing the bill. After making campaign promises to raise the minimum wage, the victorious Democrats have backtracked with lightning speed.
Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney recently announced that he “wasn’t going to do the minimum wage” this legislative session, as if the prerogative of one politician should trump the desires of hundreds of thousands of Oregonians.
Oregon labor unions are not backing down. They are mobilizing under the “Fair Shot” coalition with community groups like 15 Now Oregon to pack the state capitol on April 13th where the $15 minimum wage bill is being discussed in the legislative hearings.
Groups like 15 Now Oregon are demanding that Democrats “Don’t Kill the Bill.” But if the $15 bill does die ingloriously in a legislative committee, 15 Now Oregon plans to resurrect it via a statewide voter initiative.
 In order to survive the coming fight around Right to Work, Oregon unions need a  huge, bread-and-butter fight-back that puts them clearly on the side of working Oregonians.  The $15 campaign is that fight-back.  A raise to $15 would directly benefit nearly half our state’s workers.
Much of the Oregon public still thinks of unions as alien organizations. When you add the anti-union media to the mix, a hospitable environment is created for the cancer of Right to Work, which in actuality serves to lower wages for all workers.
Fighting this corporate cancer can only be done via organizing and action, and mobilizing the broader public in support of inspiring pro-worker demands, such as a $15 minimum wage, that benefit all workers. If unions are perceived as solely pursuing their own narrow self-interests at the expense of everyone else, they will not have the support to repel the Right to Work campaign.
Every victory for the labor movement fortifies it against Right to Work attacks, since unions grow stronger in relation to their corporate enemies. The labor movement in Seattle and San Francisco now struts with the confidence associated with flexing its muscles, having won a slew of major progressive victories that began with the $15 minimum wage.   
When San Francisco unions announced to the public that they were leading the campaign for a  $15 minimum wage– and having later succeeded– non-union people immediately became “pro-union,” and thus against “Right to Work.”  
Organizing big victories that excite and mobilize the broader community teach the public the relevancy of unions. Small victories are good too, but big wins reverberate and sink into the public consciousness. Attaching the union name to winning a $15 minimum wage would instantly change the perception of Oregon unions, as it did in Seattle and San Francisco.    

Right to Work is not inevitable in Oregon. There is still time to go on the offensive. It is likewise not inevitable that the $15 legislation will die in committee. Nothing is inevitable in politics. A large campaign by the unions can pressure Democrats into passing $15, and if that fails, an exciting union-led campaign can win $15 by championing a statewide voter initiative.   
Shamus Cooke is a shop steward at SEIU 503 and a volunteer for 15 Now PDX. He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

End Poverty Wages