Mayor’s proposal for $15 leaves out majority of low-wage city workers

by Shamus Cooke and Justin Norton-Kertson

By proposing that Portland public employees and contract workers be paid $15 an hour,  Mayor Charles Hales proved he is listening to the wave of voices demanding a $15 living wage.

A huge boost to the Fight for $15 in Portland and in the whole state of Oregon, the announcement comes almost a year after 15 Now PDX began a sustained grassroots movement to pressure Portland’s commissioners to start raising wages in the city to $15 an hour. For the past 6 months 15 Now PDX has engaged in a campaign to raise the Portland’s Fair Wage Policy to $15 an hour in wages plus $2.20 an hour in benefits. The Fair Wage Policy applies to the contract workers referred to in the Mayor’s proposal.

“This is a positive and important step forward in ensuring that in Portland no one who works lives in poverty. We commend Mayor Hales for moving forward on the Fair Wage Policy, and on raising the minimum wage to $15 for city workers” says Jamie Partridge, a 15 Now PDX volunteer who has been leading the Fair Wage Policy campaign. A public hearing on the Fair Wage Policy is set for City Hall on Wednesday, February 18 at 2pm.


At the same time, thousands of city workers in Portland remain left out by the Mayor’s proposal, since there are over over 1,800 part-time and seasonal city workers who work for less than $15 an hour and will not benefit from the proposal.

The Mayor tweeted:  “Introducing a $15 Minimum Wage for all full time permanent employees”. The implication being that part-time and temporary employees will remain in poverty wages.  But how poor exactly? And how few stand to benefit?

According to the Portland Mercury, nearly 60% of city workers earn less than $11 an hour.   Virtually none of these workers will benefit from the Mayor’s proposal, since 97% of city workers who make under $15 are parks workers, and according to the Mercury, 99% of these parks workers are temporary or seasonal employees.

One such “seasonal” employees is Sarah Kowaleski, who works for the Department of Parks & Recreation. Kowaleski welcomed the Mayor’s proposal: “I commend the Mayor’s decisive action to lift full-time permanent, and contract workers minimum wage to $15, but none of my coworkers will benefit. Few full-time permanent employees make under $15. A more significant poverty-reduction strategy would be to also lift part time and seasonal staff wages to a $15 minimum.”

Although the Parks department has 97% of its workers making under $15 an hour, the Parks commissioner Amanda Fritz does not support raising the minimum wage for city workers to $15.  Fritz has remained adamant that her priority is creating more full-time jobs for the parks department instead.  Although a noble goal, we reject the false dichotomy of creating more full-time jobs versus paying seasonal workers $15 an hour.  The city is capable of doing both.

The problem lies in the city’s unwillingness to prioritize jobs and wages. The city has succeeded in finding funding for high cost projects such as covering Mt Tabor’s reservoirs, for example. Where the city has the will, the city finds a way. Kowaleski has offered to help Fritz ask for more money for Parks & Rec. The question is whether or not the city values paying all its employees a living wage enough to find a way to make it happen.

If the Mayor is serious about paying a living wage, he should immediately make plans to ensure that every city worker earn $15 an hour.  Kowaleski adds, “The face of the low-wage worker in Oregon is female, and in her thirties. This gives me pause.. this is me, and a number of my colleagues.”  But this issue extends beyond the boundaries of city employment.” But this issue extends beyond the boundaries of city employment.

 While the city is prohibited by state law from raising the Portland minimum wage to $15 for everyone who lives and works in the city, the Mayor and city council can still be strong advocates for the growing campaign for a statewide $15 minimum wage, where there is legislation in Salem that has 16 legislative sponsors.   The almost 650,000 working Oregonians who earn below a $15 an hour living wage need the Portland City Council to be public champions of this larger statewide campaign.

Today’s proposal by the Mayor is good start we will fight for its passage, but it leaves out too many people. We have to keep fighting to ensure that everyone in Portland, that everyone in Oregon earns at least a $15 minimum wage. Because no one who works should live in poverty.

Get involved or make a donation to the Fight for $15 in Portland today!

Mayor Charlie Hales Calls for $15-an-Hour Minimum Wage in State of the City Speech

originally published in the Willamette Week.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales used his third annual “State of the City” address to stump for economic equality—proposing reforms including a $15-an-hour minimum wage, stricter oversight of the city’s minority contracting program, and tax credits for companies that hire people with criminal records. 

“We’re in a deeply stratified society,” Hales said. “The rich get richer, the poor stay poor. I believe there’s a better way: the Portland way.”

Hales pledged to make sure every full-time employee and subcontractor for the city will be paid $15 an hour in this year’s budget. Hales urged private business to copy that standard, which emerged as a political movement in Seattle last year and became the central plank of City Council candidate Nicholas Caleb.

“John Russell, a prominent local businessman, has just told me he’ll match the city’s $15-an-hour standard in his buildings,” Hales said. “I call on all business owners to do the same.”

Continuing Reading This Article…

Hundreds Rally at State Capitol for $15 Minimum Wage in Oregon

by Justin Norton-Kertson

On Saturday hundreds of Oregonians came out in force for a statewide rally on the steps of the Oregon State Capitol, where they called on legislators to make Oregon the first state to pass a $15 per hour minimum wage. The rally, organized by the 15 Now Oregon campaign, aims to continue gaining support from state legislators to raise the minimum wage in Oregon to $15 per hour.

Photo by Mark Colman
Photo by Mark Colman

Last November voters in four states – Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota – overwhelmingly approved ballot measures increasing their state minimum wages. Both Seattle and San Francisco have won $15 per hour minimum wages. In December, home care, fast food and retail workers walked off the job in over 150 U.S. cities to demand a $15 minimum wage. While here in Oregon, Multnomah County employees recently won $15 as did seasonal parks workers in the City of Portland.

“15 Now’s campaign has completely shifted the framework of discussion around raising the minimum wage in Oregon. The labor community supports $15, community organizations and legislators are jumping on board. No one is talking about $12 or $13 because everyone knows those are still poverty wages. We are the first state to have a serious conversation about raising the minimum wage to $15/hr. Oregon needs $15, and we’re going to win $15,” says Justin Norton-Kertson, organizer for 15 Now PDX.

Building on this momentum, the rally brings further attention to the issue of poverty wages in the state of Oregon where, according to a recent LERC report out of the University of Oregon, taxpayers spend $1.7 billion per year to subsidize low wages. The rally is the start of a series of efforts to draw public attention and support for the campaign and for the minimum wage bill being introduced this legislative session. That bill will raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over a three year phase in, and currently has 16 legislative sponsors.

Photo by Joshua Hanks

Food service and retail workers, school employees, home care workers, state and city workers, farm workers, trades workers and more came together from across the state to demonstrate their support for the increase. Attendees heard speeches from leaders of the AFL-CIO, PCUN, CAUSA, Don’t Shoot PDX, SEIU, OSEA, OEA, PAT, and others. Low-wage workers themselves also took to the stage to tell their stories. Their personal stories highlight the dire need for a much higher minimum wage in Oregon, and illustrate the limitations of the current statewide minimum wage. At $9.25 an hour, full-time workers in Oregon are living in poverty.

Ramon Ramirez, PCUN president. Photo by Mark Colman.
Ramon Ramirez, PCUN president. Photo by Mark Colman.
Lorena Manzo, lead organizer CAUSA. Photo by Mark Colman.
Lorena Manzo, lead organizer CAUSA. Photo by Mark Colman.
Photo by Mark Colman
Photo by Mark Colman
Tom Chamberain, Oregon AFL-CIO president
Tom Chamberain, Oregon AFL-CIO president. Photo by Mark Colman.
Teresa Raiford of Don't Shoot PDX. Photo by Mark Colman.
Teresa Raiford of Don’t Shoot PDX. Photo by Mark Colman.
Hanna Vaandering, president of the Oregon Education Association. Photo by Mark Colman.
Hanna Vaandering, president of the Oregon Education Association. Photo by Mark Colman.

When asked why she is fighting for a $15 minimum wage Rebecca Sandoval, a home care worker said, “This is as much about giving our work the dignity it deserves as it is about the needed economic security that a living wage will mean for thousands of home care workers.

Sarah Kowaleski, a low-wage office worker with the City of Portland's Department of Parks and Recreation, addresses the crowd. Photo by Mark Colman.
Sarah Kowaleski, a low-wage office worker with the City of Portland’s Department of Parks and Recreation, addresses the crowd. Photo by Mark Colman.
Walmart workers Ismael and Jennifer from Klamath talk about fighting for $15 at Walmart. Two days after the rally Ismael was fired by Walmart for organizing for $15 and full time hours. Photo by Mark Colman.
Walmart workers Ismael and Jennifer from Klamath talk about fighting for $15 at Walmart. Two days after the rally Ismael was fired by Walmart for organizing for $15 and full time hours. Photo by Mark Colman.

Anne McDonnell, a food service worker at the Oregon Zoo had a similar response: “$15 is important to me because as a service industry worker, even when hours are aplenty there’s still famine because the cost of everything goes up while wages stagnate.”

Photo by Mark Colman
Photo by Mark Colman

At one point during the rally “Ronald McDonald” and “Wally Wal-Mart” interrupted and tried to take over the event. They claimed that they owned Oregon’s government and that no one could stop them from busting unions and keeping wages low so they can get richer. They were confronted by Oregon Zoo worker Anne McDonnell, as well as by a young boy from the crowd, who had the clowns quickly escorted off the stage to roaring applause. 

Photo by Mark Colman
Photo by Mark Colman
Photo by Mark Colman

At the end of the rally the assembled crowd of some 500 people left the steps of the capitol and marched through the stress of Salem. At one point they stopped at nearby McDonald’s where they chanted “No burgers, no fries, we want wages super-sized!” and “Pay your workers $15 now!”

Hundreds of $15 minimum wage supporters march through Oregon's state capitol. Photo by Hyung Kim.
Hundreds of $15 minimum wage supporters march through Oregon’s state capitol. Photo by Hyung Kim.
Photo by Hyung Kim.
Photo by Hyung Kim.


Marchers at McDonald's. Photo by Hyung Kim.
Marchers at McDonald’s. Photo by Hyung Kim.

The crowd moved on from there, but quickly dispersed into a nearby church where a statewide 15 Now Oregon networking meeting was planned. At the meeting over one hundred activists from Portland, The Dalles, La Grande, Woodburn, Salem, Eugene, Springfield, Medford, Ashland, Klamath, Clackamas, Beaverton, and other cities heard campaign updates, and broke into groups according to city and region where activists networked with other people to begin making plans for the Fight for $15 in their local areas.

15 Now is building and as the amazing turnout at the rally shows, the people of Oregon are ready to Fight for $15! Help build this amazing movement. Donate to the campaign and volunteer with us to help lead the campaign to win a $15 minimum wage in Oregon.

A $15 Minimum Wage Solves the Benefits Cliff Problem in Oregon

by Justin Norton-Kertson

The Oregonian’s recent article shed’s strange light on the Legislative Revenue Office (LRO) analysis of the effects of a minimum wage increase and the “benefits cliff.” The analysis looks at a single parent with two children who gets a childcare tax subsidy. It states that while at a $12 or $13 minimum wage these families fall off the benefits cliff (meaning they actually end up losing money each month after accounting for the public benefits they will lose as a result of having a higher income), a $15 minimum wage leaves these families with about $50 per month extra after accounting for the public assistance benefits lose.

The Oregonian’s article come with a massive, super-sized font headline about ONLY having $49 extra with $15 minimum wage, as if this is a reason to leave the minimum wage in Oregon at a poverty level. The article focuses entirely on the grossly hyperbolized notion that if the minimum wage goes up people will actually lose money.

The article misses the real point entirely, it fails to come to the glaringly obvious conclusion that a $15 minimum actually solves the benefits cliff problem. It puts people on top of the cliff, while anything less leaves families falling off the cliff. With a $15 minimum wage working people in Oregon will have the dignity of being able to provide adequate housing, food, and health insurance for their families without having to rely on taxpayers for assistance. It even leaves these families with a little left over at the end of the month. This is important, because working people deserve dignity. No one who works should live in poverty.

The University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) just released a report addressing this exactly issue of Oregonians on public assistance. The report shows that taxpayers in Oregon spend over $1.7 billion per year to subsidize the poverty wages of massively profitable corporations by paying for the public assistance that goes to those corporations’ low-wage workers. Raising the minimum wage to $15/hr will reduce the amount that taxpayers are spending to corporate low wages. We can then use that freed up money to fund public education, or provide affordable housing, or help fund single payer healthcare for all Oregonians.

The LERC report also found that 400,000 workers in our state currently work in low-wage jobs, and that 197,000 of them received public assistance. That means that there are hundreds of thousands of working Oregonians who make less than $15/hr and DID NOT receive public assistance. They would benefit directly from an increase in wages. For these workers the benefits cliff does not exist. They will have much more than $49 extra at the end of the month when we increase the minimum wage $15/hr. 

What the LRO report shows is that $15 is the right number for Oregon’s minimum wage. Families can’t survive on $9.25. A $12 or $13 minimum wage is still a poverty wage here in our state, and would leave families falling off the benefits cliff. Only a $15 minimum wage is enough to prevent families from falling off the cliff while giving working Oregonians the dignity of earning a wage that allows them to provide for their families. Oregon needs a raise. Oregon needs $15 Now.

Help us win $15 for Oregon by donating to the campaign or becoming a volunteer!

Democrats propose minimum wage increase, mandatory sick leave for coming session

Originally published on on January 12, 2015 at 4:18 PM, updated January 12, 2015 at 8:37 PM

By Ian K. Kullgren

SALEM — Legislative Democrats introduced a number of bills Monday, including ones aimed at raising the state’s minimum wage.

Several bills — which include proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and to require employers to offer paid sick leave — signal an effort by the Democratic majority to follow with a core set of changes in the coming session promised to voters before last fall’s election. Democrats will convene for the 78th Legislative Assembly on Feb. 2 with a supermajority in the Senate and one seat shy of a supermajority in the House.

More than 1,400 bills were introduced Monday after Gov. John Kitzhaber‘s inauguration. Earlier in the day, Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, was selected for a second term has House speaker and Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, was chosen for a historic seventh term as Senate president.

One Democrat-backed bill would gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018. Another would raise it to $12.20 by 2017 with provisions to adjust it for inflation.

Kitzhaber, in his fourth and final inaugural address, vowed to fight growing inequality among Oregonians. Even as the state’s Gross Domestic Product has risen in recent years, he said, low-wage workers have not shared in the prosperity.

“That should be troubling to all of us,” Kitzhaber said. “It’s our intent to lift up the whole community, not just part of it.”

During his campaign, Kitzhaber expressed qualms about raising the minimum wage too high, which he worries could make some people ineligible for federal food assistance and other entitlement programs.

Other top-billed items on Democrats’ agenda, including a transportation funding package and education reform, probably will not be put forth until some of the details are worked out during committee meetings.

One bill in the House would prevent soon-to-be-legal pot shops from opening within a mile of a school, although other proposed changes — most notably whether to allow local taxes on recreational marijuana — will originate from the joint House and Senate committee charged with overseeing the law’s implementation.

Lawmakers plan to meet Tuesday and Wednesday at the Capitol for organizational meetings before formally convening next month.

— Ian K. Kullgren

503-432-4006; @IanKullgren

OREGON WORKFORCE REPORT 2014 — The High Cost of Low Wages in Oregon

The University of Oregon has released its Oregon Workforce Report 2014, The High Cost of Low Wages in Oregon, The  report shows that Oregon taxpayers pay $1.7 billion dollars per year to subsidize the low wages of companies that refuse to pay their workers a living wage.

Here are some of the studies important findings:

  • Over 400,000 Oregonians are employed in low-wage work. That’s roughly 25 percent of the state’s workforce.
  • Workers outside the Portland metro area are far more likely to end up in low-wage jobs than their urban counterparts.
  • The average wage for the 44 parents interviewed in this report was $1,300 a month.
  • The prevalence of low-wage work means demand for public services is at a record high – over 1 million Oregonians now rely on food stamps and other assistance to feed and support their families.
  • Women are more likely than men to end up in low-wage jobs.
  • Thirty percent of Latino and over 40 percent of African American households are low-wage earners.
  • One in seven Oregon workers received public assistance in January 2014.
  • The cost of providing this assistance is high—taxpayers subsidize corporations’ reliance on a low-wage workforce to the tune of $1.7 billion a year.
  • Oregon has one of the highest percentages of workers receiving state assistance and one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the country.
  • From 2002 to 2012, the bottom three-quarters of Oregon’s income distribution saw their net income decrease.

Raising the minimum wage in Oregon to $15/hr will help at least half a million Oregonians. It will help 200,000 working Oregonians get off public assistance by allowing them to afford to pay their rent and feed their families. It will help lift women and people of color in Oregon out of poverty. $12/hr won’t accomplish this. $13/hr won’t accomplish this. In Oregon, workers need at least $15/hr to be able to afford rent, health care, and feed their families without being mired in debt and poverty.



We have a bill to raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 being introduced in the state legislature. Call you state representatives and tell them you support a $15 minimum wage for all Oregonians!

Can you help us win $15 for Oregon by making a contribution to the campaign? Click here to make a donation to help us fight for Oregon’s working class!

The Strategic Significance of the Fight for $15

by Ann Robertson, Bill Leumer

In Oregon…This entire campaign is an example of working people relying on themselves rather than turning to the Democrats to beg for handouts and could be used as a model throughout the country.

This article was originally published by Common Dreams on January 2, 2015.

The fight for $15, a movement that started two years ago with a walkout of fast food workers in New York, has been gaining momentum ever since. In early December 2014, workers staged one-day strikes in over 150 cities, creating what The New York Times called “the largest labor protests in the nation in years.”

Additionally significant is the fact that the movement has been reviving the principle of solidarity — a principle so often forgotten in the current labor movement — with home care aides and convenience store workers joining the protests. These workers fully grasp the principle that if they step up and help other workers in struggle, they will get support when they themselves are in need.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has played an indispensable role, helping crystallize the movement by supplying $10 million to help finance the organizing operations. By underwriting a struggle that not only benefits some of their own workers but those outside of its ranks as well, SEIU is embracing the finest principle of the union movement: Instead of pursuing their own narrow self-interests at the expense of everyone else, like those unions that support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, SEIU is championing the interests of the working class as a whole. Even workers who make more than $15 will benefit from a substantially higher minimum wage because the bottom will have been raised and expectations adjusted accordingly.

Click Here to read full article

Carpenters Local 1503 endorses $15 minimum wage

Columbia River Carpenters Union Local 1503 has joined other building trade unions such as the Laborers’, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters in endorsing a $15 minimum wage for Oregon.

Carpenters Local 1503 represents carpenters in Oregon and SW Washington, and is part of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, which was founded in 1881.

With Local 1503’s endorsement 31 labor organization in Oregon have called for a $15 minimum wage. 49 labor unions, community organizations, and business have endorsed $15 in Oregon and the list is growing every week!

As the list of Oregon unions, community organizations and business that support $15 grows our voice becomes louder and more deafening.

Become a part of the chorus. Become a part of the wave of working class power that is building to demand $15. No worker deserves to live in poverty!

Join us and Fight for $15!

Legislation for $15 minimum wage in Oregon picks up 11 sponsors

For Immediate Release
December 11, 2014

SALEM, OR – As the movement for a $15 minimum wage in Oregon continues to gain momentum, members of 15 Now Portland and Portland Jobs with Justice spent three days in Salem this past week gathering sponsors for two pieces of legislation that are being introduced on their behalf by Senator Chip Shields.

The two bills include one to raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, and one to repeal the state’s preemption law that prevents municipalities from raising the minimum wage for all workers. That law, passed in 2001, was the creation of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and was pushed into law by the Oregon Restaurant Association. 

15 Now PDX members take a lunch break at the state capitol while discussing their lobby efforts.

As a result of the effort this past week both bills picked up a number of sponsors. The $15 minimum wage bill picked up eleven sponsors and the bill to repeal the minimum wage preemption law picked up thirteen. The $15 minimum wage in Oregon has now been endorsed by almost 50 labor groups, community organizations, and businesses. 

Organizers of the movement have vowed to take the minimum wage fight to the ballot if the state legislature does not pass a bill for $15, “No one deserves to live in poverty. If the legislature fails to pass $15 for the working class, then we will go to the ballot and the people of Oregon will pass it” says Anne McDonnell, a 15 Now Portland steering committee member, a low wage worker, and a member of LiUNA Local 483. 

15 Now Oregon will hold a rally on the steps of the capitol building from 12-1pm on January 24, 2015.

Sponsors of the LC 1911 to raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 per hour:

Chief Sponsor
Senator Chip Shields (D-22)

Sen. Rosenbaum (D-21)
Sen. Bates (D-3)
Sen. Dembrow (D-23)
Rep. Keny-Guyer (D-46)
Rep. Barnhart (D-11)
Rep. Buckley (D-5)
Rep. Frederick (D-43)
Rep. Greenlick (D-33)
Rep. Nosse (D-42)
Rep. Smith Warner (D-45)

Sponsors of LC 1912 to repeal Oregon’s minimum wage preemption law:

Chief Sponsors
Senator Chip Shields (D-22)
Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer (D-46)

Sen. Rosenbaum (D-21)
Sen. Bates (D-3)
Sen. Dembrow (D-23)
Sen. Burdick (D-18)
Sen. Monroe (D-24)
Rep. Keny-Guyer (D-46)
Rep. Barnhart (D-11)
Rep. Buckley (D-5)
Rep. Frederick (D-43)
Rep. Greenlick (D-33)
Rep. Nosse (D-42)
Rep. Smith Warner (D-45)

Don’t Shoot Portland endorses $15, highlighting connection between poverty, racism, police brutality

Don’t Shoot Portland has endorsed a $15 minimum wage and not just for the City of Portland. Responding to today’s news that all Multnomah County employees have won a $15 minimum wage, Don’t Shoot Portland organizer Teressa Raiford said, “That’s a great step, but we need to make sure we win $15 for the whole state, for all of Oregon.”

Since August of 2014, Don’t Shoot Portland has organized mass rallies, community meetings, and public forums around the issue of police killings and brutality, systemic racism and racial profiling, and oppression of communities of color in the wake of the murder of Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.

Don’t Shoot Portland has shown a tremendous ability to harness the disillusioned outrage of a new generation of civil rights activists in Portland, to draw relevant connections between Ferguson and police brutality and killings here locally in Portland, and translate it all into powerful public action and discourse. It is worth our time to explore how the problem of systemic racism and police oppression of communities of color goes hand in hand with the problem of systemic poverty and income inequality.

Over 1,000 people march through the streets of downtown Portland to demand justice for Michael Brown — Photo by Hart Noecker

The Problem

Racism, racial profiling, and police oppression are serious problems that are faced daily by black communities throughout Oregon and the U.S. From the earliest days of American law when black people where legally deemed the property of white men, through Jim Crow and Oregon’s exclusion laws, down to the prison-industrial complex today the system was, in fact, never meant to serve and protect black communities. Today, one unarmed black person is shot and killed by police every 28 hours in America.

They are killed by the same police that are called on to violently break up peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience against police brutality and corporate domination of our society. They are the same police who are called on to serve the corporate state by violently attacking striking workers and forcing them back to work.

The militarized police forces in this country are used to protect corporate wealth and power. This is certainly true when it comes to keeping communities of color in poverty and prison, and it is true when it comes to breaking strikes and squelching first amendment expression. The racism and systemic problems that allow police to get away with murdering unarmed black men are on and the same as the racism and systemic problems that allow massive corporations and a few mostly white individuals to amass and hoard vast amounts of wealth while communities of color live in poverty.

It is no secret that poverty is one of the major causes of violence and crime. Many of these “crimes” are nothing more than crimes of survival. Crimes people commit because they are hungry and desperate, they have kids to feed, and they can’t survive on the poverty wages offered by the American economy. So they seek black market and other opportunities to provide for themselves and their families. Like Eric Garner selling single cigarettes on a street corner in New York City. Now he is dead.

When talking about how these issues intersect, Teressa Raiford said it best and simply when she said, “We all know that we aren’t going to end violence unless we end poverty.”

When it comes to poverty, communities of color are disproportionately represented as a result of the racism that has been built into the American economic and legal system. For example, white people make up 88% of Oregon’s population, and only 15% of white people in Oregon live in poverty according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy. On the other hand, while black people make up a disturbingly small 2% of Oregon’s population, a staggering 41% of black Oregonians live in poverty.  This shows that just like police oppression, violence and murder, systemic poverty is a serious issue for communities of color. Systemic racism (a tool for dividing the working class) in a country who’s laws were never meant to protect and serve the black community is at the heart of both the problems of poverty and police violence in that community.

The Solution

There is no one solution to these problems. These problems are systemic, meaning that they are part of the very structure and they are built into the very institutions that compose and hold up our society. The only way some people can be filthy rich, with billions of dollars that they could never spend in one lifetime, is by keeping the masses of people in poverty, people who work hard to create the wealth their bosses hoard. Indeed, today half of all Americans either live in poverty or are on the brink of poverty. In Oregon, 72% of families living in poverty have at least one parent that works.

Poverty is not an issue of laziness, or a matter of a lack of skills or education. Those families and parents work hard to try and provide for their families. It is simply a matter of a system built upon the fact that a few people can get disgustingly rich only if the masses are either in slavery, or are paid poverty wages.

In the same way, communities of color are kept in poverty and in prison because our unjust economic system needs low-wage workers, it needs soldiers, its needs cannon fodder. And so communities of color are hounded and oppressed by militarized police forces. They are shoveled down a school-to-prison pipeline that ensures our prison-industrial complex is continuously fed new slave labor for companies that use prisoners as a labor force. Many of these companies, such as Target and Macy’s, are among the same companies that are guilty of paying poverty wages to their non-prison labor force. It is also ensured, through background checks and laws allowing businesses to discriminate against felons, that once out of prison people remain in poverty and are unable to find good jobs and move up the economic ladder. They are relegated to poverty wage jobs.

If all these problems are systemic, then the solution to these problems is also systemic. We must Fight for $15 to help alleviate the pressure of poverty on communities of color and all other communities suffering from systemic income inequality. We must fight to end police brutality and racial profiling, to end a racist system in which police can indiscriminately kill unarmed black people and get away with it.

We need to join together, unite across movements into one mass movement to create the systemic changes necessary for real justice to be ensured. We need a new civil rights era with people engaging in mass protests, strikes, and walkouts to demand justice: economic justice, racial justice, social justice, environmental justice…justice for all!

Click here to visit the 15 Now PDX Facebook page

Justin Norton-Kertson is an organizer and steering committee member with 15 Now Portland, and is the Northwest regional representative on the 15 Now national steering committee.

End Poverty Wages