During a recent conversation about the cost of living in Oregon and raising the minimum wage, a representative from an Oregon business lobby asserted that a $15 minimum wage won’t make any difference. After all prices will simply go up across the board, wiping out any newfound buying power that low-wage workers might have thought they would have. It’s a forgone conclusion!
As an example he used Ivar’s Seafood Bar, a Seattle-area restaurant chain that started paying $15 per hour ahead of the scheduled phase in period that will last for the next 6 years. It also eliminated the social obligation to tip by increasing prices by about 20% and distributing that among the employees.
So yes, Ivar’s did raise its prices, but it raised its prices by the amount one would tip, as an alternative to socially obligated tipping. You’re paying about the same as if you would have tipped, and the workers are still getting a share of that price increase, as they would if it were a tip. The price increase was about the elimination of socially obligated tipping, not about compensating for the increase in the workers’ base pay to $15 per hour.
But aside from the clearly flawed example used by the business lobbyist, we’d like to point out the absurdity of the assumption that raising the minimum wage to $15 necessitates price increases.
No one who works should live in poverty, and we know that anything less than $15 isn’t enough for working people in Oregon to afford the basic necessities without having to rely on public assistance. This is why we have been fighting for $15 here in Portland, and in the State of Oregon for the last year and half.
The movement for $15 has gone from fast food workers, to cities, to the state level, and is now raging all across the country. Recently, over 200 economists signed onto a letter of support for a federal $15 minimum wage, and 10 of those economists live and work right here in the State of Oregon. Today three of those economists – Drs. Mary King, Marty Hart-Landsberg, and Robin Hahnel – held a press conference at Portland State University to talk about why they support $15 not only nationally, but also as the statewide minimum wage here in Oregon.
Click Here is read Dr. Mary King’s full statement.
Click Here to listen to the full press conference on KBOO’s podcast.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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.