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Movement to Raise Minimum Wage to $15 Keeps Growing; Activists Demand Change to State Law

This article first appeared in Portland Occupier

“I’m here, and I’m tired, and I’m speaking out with all the strength that I have. We need 15 now.”

Those words, spoken by Janice Niag, a First Student bus driver, demanding changes to the City’s Fair Wage Policy summed up the feeling at SEIU Local 49 Hall on October 20. Over 100 people attended the community meeting organized by the 15 Now Oregon campaign, which has been gathering momentum for many months in its drive to get the City to change its minimum wage for contract workers to $15 an hour.

15 Now Oregon is also pushing the Oregon legislature to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour and overturn the preemption clause that forbids local governments from raising the private sector minimum wage in their jurisdictions.

Niag was among a handful of people who gave anecdotal force to the litany of facts and statistics presented by Lewis and Clark College economics professor Martin Hart-Landsberg. Hart-Landsberg painted a bleak picture of the past 40 years, showing how the wealthy have gained vast control over the US political system through concerted effort that results in legislation and court decisions that continuously funnel more and more wealth upward. These changes–tax code makeovers, the diminution of people’s rights to organize, greater militarization of the economy and erroneously named free trade agreements–all contribute to an economy that “works very well for an increasingly small percentage of the population and that works very poorly for the rest of us,” Hart-Landsberg said.

Read the full article here

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City janitors, security guards, parking attendants, stadium workers seek a $15/hr fair wage

by Jamie Partridge

Riding the momentum of the national 15 Now movement for a $15 minimum wage, City of Portland contract workers and over 100 of their allies demanded improvements in the city’s Fair Wage Policy at a community hearing in southeast Portland tonight.

Click here to read the proposed improvements to the City of Portland’s Fair Wage Policy

Jackie Dingfelder from Mayor Hales office, and Brendan Finn and Matt Grumm from Commissioner Saltzman’s office received petitions with over five thousand Oregonian signatures calling for a fifteen dollar per hour minimum wage.

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Representatives of Mayor Hales and Commissioner Saltzman listen to worker testimony at the Community Hearing on the City of Portland’s Fair Wage Policy.

Oregon House Representative Rob Nosse, who represents the district around the union hall where the hearing was held, and House Speaker Tina Kotek delivered solidarity statements encouraging city commissioners to raise wages for city contract workers.  Nosse is introducing a $15 minimum wage bill in the Oregon legislature in 2015.

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Oregon State House Representative Rob Nosse giving solidarity statements on behalf of himself and Speaker of the State House, Tina Kotek.

Click here to make a donation and support the effort to raise Portland’s Fair Wage Policy to $15

The City of Portland adopted a Fair Wage Policy in 1998, thanks to a Living Wage campaign led by Jobs with Justice.  That wage, for janitors, security guards, parking attendants, stadium workers and others at companies which contract with the City, is currently at $10.38/ hour plus $1.92 for benefits.  Speakers at the hearing asked the questions:  Is this a living wage in Portland?  Should tax dollars be spent keeping workers in poverty?  Are enough workers covered?  Is monitoring and enforcement adequate? Advocates are demanding the policy be changed to $15/ hour in wages plus an additional $2.20/ hour for benefits.
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Linda Sporer, a security guard in Portland, talks about not being able to afford to take her grandkids out to dinner on her low-wage job.
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Maggie Fraech, a civic stadium worker, shares that after a decades on the job, her pay has topped out at less than $12 per hour.
City Council staff and the assembled crowd heard moving testimony on struggle to make ends meet from a wide range of low-wage workers — a security guard, a civic stadium worker, a seasonal parks employee, a grocery worker, a bus driver – as well as an economist and a priest who each spoke about the importance of addressing and ending income inequality.
Robbie Schaal, a seasonal parks worker in Portland, talks about the difficulties of paying bills with a low-wage seasonal job.
Robbie Schaal, a seasonal parks worker in Portland, talks about the difficulties of paying bills with a low-wage seasonal job.

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Dingfelder, Finn and Grumm were asked by hearing organizers from 15 Now PDX to arrange a City Council hearing and a timeline for upgrading the Fair Wage Policy.  The commissioners’ representatives promised to bring the requests back to city hall.
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Professors, Day Laborers, & Nurses Endorse $15 Minimum Wage!

As 15 Now PDX gears up for the Community Hearing on the City of Portland’s Fair Wage Policy this coming Monday October 20th, more endorsements for a $15 minimum wage in Portland and throughout Oregon have been coming in.

American Federation of Teachers Local 2277 endorsed $15 early in October. AFT Local  2277, PCC Federation of Faculty and Academic Professional represents teachers, librarians, counselors, and other academic professional faculty at Portland Community College campuses throughout the city.

Last week a $15 minimum wage was also endorsed by a unanimous vote of the present members of Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project. Voz operates the Martin Luther King, Jr. Work Center in Portland, and “is a worker-led organization that empowers immigrants and day laborers to gain control over their working conditions through leadership development, organizing, and community education.” Immigrant laborers, more than any other workers in our economy, bare the brunt of the burden of our low-wage economy, and it is with excitement and hope that we welcome day laborers and other immigrant workers into Portland’s Fight for $15.

Finally, just this past week $15 was endorsed by the Oregon Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals. OFNHP, AFT Healthcare Local 5017 has represented health care professionals for over 30 years, and currently represents more than 3,300 nurses and other healthcare professionals in the states of Oregon and Washington.

As the coalition of unions and community organizations fighting for a $15 minimum wage in Portland and Oregon grows, so does our strength and our ability to win big victories for the working class! Join us and fight for $15 here in Portland. Become a volunteer or make a financial contribution to the campaign today!

 

 

Transit, Communications, Bookstore, Musician, and Agricultural Workers Endorse $15 for Oregon

The steady stream of endorsements for a $15 minimum wage in Oregon continues. Over the last month five new labor unions have  taken a stand by saying they support $15 for all workers in our state.

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Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 represents transit workers all over the State of Oregon including but not limited to Trimet, Salem, Rogue Valley, Lane County, North Bonneville, Bend, Tillamook, and Portland Public Schools Student Transit Services workers, as well as transit workers for companies such as First Student, Inc. and MV Transportation.

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Communication Workers of America Local 7901 represents over 1,000 private and public workers throughout the State of Oregon in the telecommunications, printing and publishing, and public union representatives fields.

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ILWU Local 5 represents workers in Portland at Powell’s Bookstore, which is said to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the nation.

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American Federation of Musicians Local 99 represents professional musicians all over the State of Oregon including Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook, Washington, Yamhill, Polk, Multnomah, Clackamas, Marion, Lincoln, Linn, Hood River, Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam, Wheeler, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Grant, and Baker Counties.

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Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) represents over 6,000 farm workers and tree planters in Oregon. 98% of their members are immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Immigrant workers are among those who suffer most from the burdens of our low-wage economy, and the movement for a $15 minimum wage here in Oregon is dedicated to ensuring immigrant workers are paid a living wage and are treated with dignity and respect on the job like every other worker.

OSEAIn addition, the Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA) endorsed a $15 minimum wage for Oregon back in August, and that made news this past week when the Statesman Journal ran an article about the endorsement. OSEA represents over 20,000 classified employees in Oregon K-12 schools including custodians, bus drivers, classroom aides and secretaries. Many of those employees make minimum wage.

Click here to see a full list of current endorsers of a $15 minimum wage in Oregon.

15 Now Oregon Shows Growing Strength, Announces 2015 Legislation for a $15 Minimum Wage in Oregon

After recently delivering over 5,000 signatures in support of a $15 minimum wage at an economic fairness town hall meeting hosted by Oregon Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum and Representative Rob Nosse, the fight for a $15 minimum wage in Oregon continued to show its growing strength this week with the holding of the first statewide 15 Now Oregon general meeting.

Held at SEIU Local 503’s union hall and organized by 15 Now PDX, dozens of people attended the meeting including members from LiUNA 483, SEIU Locals 503 and 49, Oregon State Association of Letter Carriers, Oregon Education Association, Portland Association of Teachers, Rural Organizing Project, Health Care for All Oregon, the Democratic Socialists of America, Socialist Alternative, and International Socialist Organization.  People came from all over Oregon to attended the meeting including from places such as Beaverton, Oregon City, Salem, Medford, and Ashland, and of course Portland. There are also new 15 Now chapters in The Dalles and Eugene that did not have representatives at the meeting. Low-wage professionals represented included various low wage food service and home care workers, who gave testimony about their stories and experiences with low paid work.

There was a welcome surprise at the meeting as it was announced that minimum wage bills for the 2015 state legislative session have been submitted to the state’s Legislative Counsel from both the Oregon State House and the Oregon Senate. The bills submitted include bills to raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15/hr, and to repeal Oregon’s minimum wage preemption law that prevents cities from raising the minimum wage above the level set by the state. If the $15/hr minimum wage bill passes Oregon will be the first whole state to enact a $15 living wage, which will make Oregon the national leader on the minimum wage question.

 

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Oregon Strong Voice Holds Press Conference on Student Debt, Living Wage

Last week Oregon Strong Voice, a broad coalition of labor and community-based organizations, held a press conference in Medford with the intention of jump starting a conversation in the Rogue Valley about student debt and a living wage. The press conference included affected students and recent graduates speaking out the difficulties of living with and paying off massive student debt, and the struggles of paying for school and living expenses on poverty-wage jobs. Also stressed was the need to start thinking about the minimum wage in Oregon in terms of a real living wage, especially in the current economic climate in which most job growth is taking place in low-wage industries.

You can view the press conference by clicking here.

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Photo by Jamie Partridge

15 Now PDX Delivers Over 5,000 Signatures to Sen. Rosenbaum & Rep. Nosse at Economic Fairness Town Hall

Last Saturday State Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum and Representative Rob Nosse held an economic fairness town hall meeting in SE Portland. They and representatives from the AARP, AFL-CIO, and Family Forward Oregon discussed working class issues such as paid sick leave, the ability to save for retirement, and raising the minimum wage.

About 40 people were in attendance, most of them wearing 15 PDX buttons and holding bright red signs that read “15 Now: Oregon Needs A Raise.” On the minimum wage issue, the rhetoric from the legislators and organizational representatives was encouraging. Elana Guiney, the Oregon AFL-CIO’s state legislative and communications director, pointed to studies showing that a living wage in Oregon is between $16-19/hr, and the fact that inflation in Oregon is grossly outpacing the national rate was also discussed.

Indeed, the panelists seemed to be in unanimous agreement that state representatives should shoot as high as possible in terms of raising Oregon’s minimum wage during the 2015 legislative session. Furthermore, Senator Rosenbaum and Representative Nosse make it clear that they are not willing to compromise away a minimum wage law by agreeing to corporate watering down tactics such as tip credits, long phase ins, and multi-tiered sub-minimum wages.

When the Q&A portion of the town hall meeting began, there were a flurry of questions about the need for $15 and whether or not that need would be taken seriously at the legislative level. It was pointed out that 15 Now chapters are forming all over the state, that the list of organizations and unions endorsing $15 for Oregon is rapidly growing, and representatives of 15 Now PDX  delivered to Rosenbaum and Nosse over 5,000 signatures from residents all over the state of Oregon who support a $15 minimum wage.

While the tone of the meeting was positive and hopeful, neither Rosenbaum nor Nosse, nor the AFL-CIO (the represented organization most directly involved in the minimum wage fight) was willing to publicly endorse and be legislative leaders in the Fight for $15 here in Oregon.

What does this mean? It means that we have to keep building the grassroots, working class movement for a $15/hr minimum wage here in Oregon. We have to keep expanding our chapters and our coalition. We have to organize fast food workers to walk out on strike here in Oregon with the demand for $15 and a union. We need massive call in and letter writing campaigns to pressure legislators all over the state to take up the mantle of $15. We need to build enough pressure that local and state representatives, as well as business owners have no choice but to support and fight for $15 for fear that otherwise the working class kettle will boil over, that the bubble will burst. In short, we need you to join the fight, and we need you to get your friends, your family, and neighborhood involved as well!

There are variety of ways that you can help Fight for $15 in Oregon. Contact us about volunteering, joining a chapter, or starting a 15 Now chapter in your town. Make a one time donation to our fundraising campaign, or make a recurring monthly donation to the Fight for $15 in Oregon! You can also call your state reps and demand they fight for a $15 minimum wage for all Oregonians!

Written by Justin Norton-Kertson, 15 Now PDX cofounder and steering committee member.

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Don’t Settle For Less: $15 Now!

Shamus Cooke

Momentum is still growing for a $15 minimum wage. On August 4th150 cities rallied for $15 and union rights, with striking fast food workers engaging in civil disobedience. Meanwhile, San Francisco voters are expected to pass a $15 referendum in November, and Seattle starts to phase in $15 on January 1st. The city of SeaTac, Washington has lived under $15 all year, proving false the predictions of the 1% that economic collapse would ensue.

The savvier establishment politicians understand the populist wave of $15, and are taking action to stem the tide. For example, the mayors of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles have endorsed various versions of a $13 minimum wage, though Chicago’s mayor endorsing a $13 minimum wage for only city workers in 2018 isn’t likely to quiet the streets.

While elite politicians understandably fear the growing muscle of $15, many on the political left have underestimated its strength, dismissing the movement as a fluff campaign led by opportunistic unions. This narrative includes some valid criticisms but misses the big picture entirely.

The hidden power behind the $15 demand is the unpredictable dynamic it creates. When non-activist working people are suddenly activated on a national scale, the seeds of a social movement begin to sprout.

In the same way that people are demanding dignity and justice in Ferguson, the $15 minimum galvanizes previously inactive segments of the population. If masses of working people become politically active, thereby reflecting a conscious awareness of a battle between opposed social classes, then the social-economic equilibrium of the country favoring the 1% begins to shake. An emerging threat to the balance of power is ultimately what’s terrifying the politicians.

The “fight for $15” is the first time in decades that working class people have been inspired by a bold demand. Two years ago $15 was a ridiculous pipe dream. But now $15 is starting to materialize, proving to millions of onlookers that it’s achievable. Hopelessness can turn into hope and powerlessness into power when $15 is fought for and won. Winning a once-impossible demand inspires confidence to make new equally impossible demands.

If the Occupy movement had been armed with the $15 demand, its reach would have widened to broader layers of the community, helping expand the movement’s life. The $15 movement is one of Occupy’s many children; no movement engaged the nation more over income inequality, but Occupy failed to raise any demands or solutions.

The most direct route to attack income inequality and poverty is a $15 minimum wage, which would directly benefit 51 million people and indirectly help 30 million more, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The era of corporate-dominated national politics and the accompanying inequality in wealth adds an extra layer of power to $15: we are midway through a period of uncontrollable neoliberalism, where a demand for $15 directly confronts the ceaseless attacks on working people’s living standards.

Of course, millions of people who make less than $15 an hour don’t need this explained to them. The demand is automatically accepted, in the same way it is automatically rejected by the elite, who stand to lose $billions in profits to rising workers’ wages.

Another vital component of the $15 demand is the role of organized labor, whose ranks include millions more working people. Unions birthed the $15 demand in 2012 with SEIU-organized fast food strikes. This then led to unions successfully winning $15 in SeaTac, Washington, and then Seattle.

Labor’s connection to $15 has shown non-union people why unions matter. After decades of political irrelevance because of their willingness to accept concessions without a fight, unions are beginning to wake up; and only unions could have launched the $15 movement so successfully, since they remain the only working class organization with enough resources to successfully engage battle with the 1%.

The normally timid voice of unions is due to their links to the Democratic Party, which consistently insists that unions water down their demands to appease the 1%, thus inspiring nobody. Union politics have bored union members and the community for years. The $15 demand is thus a break from boring union politics and a break with the Democrats in action over a serious issue, which all activists — union and non-union — should encourage.

The ultimate reason why $15 inspires working people is that it connects with their desire for a dignified life. This sentiment lies at the core of revolution. The Arab Spring consisted of average people raising the voices after decades of political invisibility, in a region of mass unemployment, growing inequality in wealth, growing poverty, and unresponsive political elites. In the U.S. the defeat of segregation was directly challenged by the simple yet profound slogan “I Am a Man,” which reflected the broad-based demand for dignity among African Americans.

The tens of millions of working poor and unemployed in the U.S. are beginning to demand dignity, with potentially profound implications. A $15 minimum wage will not solve all of our society’s social problems, but it can trigger a powerful process for social change that has been absent in the U.S. for decades.

A national $15 minimum wage can be won if average people are inspired to join labor and community groups in the streets in ongoing actions. It takes a living wage like $15 to inspire action in the streets, while the Democratic Party’s demand of $10.10 — or slightly higher — does not. Keeping momentum towards $15 is vital; therefore $10.10 is not a step in the right direction but a barrier to $15, since it blocks energy at a crucial moment.

The national demand is $15 because it is a living wage, although just barely. The movement doesn’t have to settle for less than $15, now.
– See more at: http://workerscompass.org/dont-settle-for-less-15-now/#sthash.5msJKGA8.dpuf

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The Fight for $15 Spreads Throughout Oregon

15 Now PDX began its work in February 2014, and for some time was going at it alone in the fight for a $15 minimum wage in Oregon. Being concentrated in the Portland area necessarily meant that the campaign had a local focus, and that fact made it easy for Portland’s city council and Big Business entities such as the Portland Business Alliance to brush the thought of us aside little comment due to the fact that a state preemption law prevents municipalities within Oregon from raising the minimum wage for all workers in their jurisdiction.  However, facts on the ground are beginning to change.

As the Fight for $15 in Portland and the rest of the U.S. continues to build and gain momentum in the wake of Seattle’s victory, a number of new 15 Now chapters are popping up and forming all over the State of Oregon. Nascent chapters now exist and are beginning to build and take action from Beaverton to The Dalles, to Salem, Eugene, and Medford.

Inflation in Oregon has doubled that of the national rate in recent years while employment and income gains for the working class remain stagnant. In addition, recent studies by both the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Alliance for a Just Society  show that a living wage for workers in the State of Oregon is around $16/hr. As 15 Now continues to build and spread throughout Oregon, and our state legislature prepares to try and raise the state’s minimum wage during the 2015 legislative session, they will not be able to ignore these facts, nor will they be able to ignore the groundswell of grassroots, working class support for a $15/hr minimum wage in Oregon!

But we need your help to make $15 a reality for Oregon! Can you volunteer to Fight for $15 in Oregon? Click here to contact us about joining or starting a local chapter in your city. Can you make a monetary contribution to help us fight the big money that big business is going to spend to stop the working class from getting its fair share? Click here to donate to our current fundraising drive or you can click here to make a monthly donation!

Written by Justin Norton-Kertson, 15 Now PDX cofounder and steering committee member.

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