As community members and supporters of a $15 minimum wage filed into Portland City Hall this morning, security tried to inform them that they were to sit up in the balcony even though there was plenty of room on the main floor. After being reminded that making such a demand was a clear violation of constitutionally protected free speech, the security guard quickly stepped aside and let people into the main room of the council chamber.
At today’s city council meeting, 15 Now PDX organizer Justin Norton-Kertson gave public testimony on the need for a $15/hr minimum wage in the city of Portland. During his testimony, he described the rapidly rising cost of living in Portland, costs that are increasing at more than twice the national rate of inflation. A recent study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition was cited, which found that a single mother in Portland has to work 78 hours per week at the current minimum wage in order to attain even the most basic level economic security that would allow her to provide adequate housing for her and her children.
He pointed out that a 40 hour per week job at a $15 minimum wage would be just enough to give those families that basic level of economic security that they need.
Norton-Kertson also encouraged the council members to publicly endorse and actively work for a $15 minimum wage in Portland by raising the minimum wage for all city workers and city contractor employees, and by implementing a Living Wage Tax. The tax, which was proposed by Nicholas Caleb during his recent campaign for city council, would fine large corporations and other businesses in Portland that do not pay their employees a $15 minimum wage. The money collected would then be used to help subsidize wage increases for low wage workers in Portland.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz replied that she has researched the idea of raising the minimum wage for the 2,000 city workers who make less than $15/hr within her Bureau of Parks and Recreation. However, she said it would cost the city $2.7 million, and suggested that the price tag was too high when that money could be used for street maintenance, or to provide a few dozen more full time jobs with benefits within the department.
Mayor Charlie Hales also replied, stating that “We don’t like preemptions in general and we don’t like this one either.” He also clearly noted, one could even say pledged that getting the state’s minimum wage preemption law repealed is going to be on the city’s legislative agenda for this coming year’s state legislative session.
Norton-Kertson thanked the council for taking up the issue of the preemption law at the state level, and told the council that 15 Now PDX looks forward to continuing the conversation with them about raising the minimum wage in Portland to $15. He offered the council the suggestion that if they are able to so easily cut through all the red tape and raise the tax money necessary to get all the city’s new development projects underway, that surely they could cut through similar red tape to ensure that everyone in Portland who works makes a $15/hr living wage. He closed out his testimony by asking if anyone on the council was ready to endorse $15 Now for Portland. None of the council members took up the invitation.
15 Now PDX meets with Commissioner Dan Saltzman tomorrow afternoon to further discuss a $15 minimum wage for Portland and action to repeal the state’s minimum wage preemption law.
But we can not rely on politicians to do the work for us. If we do we are likely to get a $15 that is full of corporate loopholes. We need to continue building the grassroots, working class power and strength that can fight the money and propaganda of big business and win a strong $15 for our city! Can you volunteer or make a contribution to 15 Now PDX to help us build that movement?
Written by Justin Norton-Kertson, 15 Now PDX cofounder and steering committee member.