All Articles by Justin Norton-Kertson

108 Articles

All Articles by Justin Norton-Kertson

8 Articles

Oregon Governor’s Minimum Wage Plan Isn’t Good Enough

Governor Kate Brown has released the details of her proposal for increasing Oregon’s minimum wage. According to an article just published by the Oregonian, “Brown’s plan would set two rates for Oregon. One would cover the Portland metro area, as defined by the region’s urban growth boundary, and top out at $15.52 an hour. The other would set a $13.50 minimum for the rest of the state.”

$15.52 per hour for the Portland metro region sounds really great. Hey, it’s even higher than we’ve been demanding! Unfortunately, the region’s minimum wage would not reach that level until January of 2022, a six year phase in. That is entirely too long. 3 years longer than what is proposed in IP 41, the ballot initiative being run by the Oregonians for 15 coalition. The cost of living in the Portland area has, in fact, already surpassed the $15 minimum wage level. Study after study shows this to be the case. $15.52 in six years is, to be perfectly frank, not fast enough and not good enough.

$13.50 for rural Oregon in six years is not fast enough, it’s not good enough. The Alliance for a Just Society already places the self-sufficiency wage for the entire state, including rural Oregon, at $15.99 per hour. According to a 2014 Oregon Department of Human Services study conducted by Oregon State University, the hourly wage needed for a single parent with one child to be able to afford fair market rate, small home-based childcare without being cost burdened is $15 per hour or more in all but four of Oregon’s counties.

Furthermore, the minimum wage preemption law that prevents cities and counties from raising their own minimum wage needs to be repealed. The law is undemocratic. It is a tool of right wing corporate lobby powerhouses like ALEC whose mission is to limit and  repeal the rights and the gains that have been won by working people around the nation.

So while we applaud Governor Brown for recognizing that the Portland area needs at least $15, we are compelled to state that this plan is not good enough. It phases in too slowly, and it doesn’t create a statewide minimum wage that ensures working families can be self-sufficient.

IP 41 increases the minimum wage to $15 across the state over a 3 year phase in, by 2019. The initiative recognizes that $15 is also needed outside of the Portland metro area, and it gets us there on much more reasonable timeline.

The Oregon Center for Public Policy has shown that Oregon has had minimum wage increases of this size and speed in the past. Twice actually. Once during the late 80s and early 90s when the minimum wage increased by 42% over two years, and once during the 1970s when the state minimum wage increased by 80% over a four year phase in. Both of these were equivalent in size IP 41’s 60% increase over 3 years, with the wage increasing an average of about 20% per year in all three cases. After both large increases during the mid 70’s and the late 80’s, Oregon’s economy and small businesses grew and thrived.

 

 

Students shut down PSU Board of Trustees meeting, demand $15 Now for all campus workers

by Justin Norton-Kertson

The Portland State University Board of Trustees received an ear-full from a crowd of dozens of students, campus workers, professors, and community members who packed today’s board meeting, and who are fed up with being ignored by university administration and leadership. The day’s action comes after years of being ignored, and was an escalation of a year of direct action by the Portland State University Student union (PSUSU) over the arming of campus security and a host of other issues.

PSU President Wim Weiwel with other members of the PSU Board of Trustees.
PSU President Wim Weiwel (center) with other members of the PSU Board of Trustees.

The day’s action also comes just weeks after the president of the Associated Students of PSU, Dana Gazi, issued a statement calling for a mass student movement. That statement mirrored many of the demands that have been made by PSUSU such as disarming campus police, free college tuition, cancelation of student debt, a living wage for all campus workers, and an end to business model higher education.  Gazi spoke at today’s meeting echoing much of the sentiment in their open letter.

Students spoke at the meeting about racism, Islamophobia, and a growing concern about open white supremacy on campus,  as well the arming of campus security, poverty wages paid on campus, student hunger and houselessness, the cutting of arts programs, bloated administrative salaries and perks, and a host of other issues that the board has all but ignored student voices on for years.  Continue reading Students shut down PSU Board of Trustees meeting, demand $15 Now for all campus workers

Workers at PDX First Unitarian Church Win $15 and a Union

by Justin Norton-Kertson

As part of their first union contract, workers at the First Unitarian Church of Portland are guaranteed a wage of at least $15 per hour. This includes employees who are not part of the union, and is retroactive back to July 1, 2015.

The Portland Area Campaign for $15, which is being led by Portland Jobs with Justice, and of which 15 Now PDX is a part, is working to raise the minimum wage for at least 30,000 Portland area workers by 2017 through contract bargaining such as in the case of the First Unitarian Church, through voluntary commitments, and through new organizing campaigns for $15 and a union.

The following was originally published on the First Unitarian Church website on 11/19/15

Justice Begins at Home!

It was one year ago when some of our staff came into my office and requested recognition of a union for our employees. For almost nine months representatives of the employees and of the church administration have been in negotiation to craft an initial labor contract. Last spring, more than 300 individuals and families pledged additional financial support for increased wages to allow Justice to Begin at Home.

I am delighted to tell you that late last Tuesday, agreement was reached on our first labor contract. The members of the union approved its terms, as did the Executive Team. Last Sunday, the cost of the contract was approved by our Board of Trustees. The final document is being prepared for signatures, but agreement has been reached.

As promised when we raised the Justice Begins at Home funds, First Unitarian will now pay all of its employees at least a $15/hour minimum wage. That includes all employees, even those not in the union. The only exception is a six month probationary period for new employees. This significant raise will be retro-active to July 1. The benefits we offer, which are generous in the non-profit world, will remain undiminished.

A number of salaried employees, both in the union and outside, will also receive adjustments to their compensation. Most of these will be modest. Our goal remains to continue adjusting compensation for salaried staff as the congregation makes resources available.

We can be proud that we have taken a significant step toward the justice and equity our principles proclaim.

As we approach Celebration Sunday, we have much to be thankful for in this church community. The stars hung around the sanctuary speak of the inspiration, the support, the challenge and the love we create together in this place. We can now add our commitment to leadership in just compensation. The Beloved Community is built not only with words, but with our wallets. Our ability to fulfill the terms of this agreement depends on the continued generosity of the members of this community. Our gratitude for First Church needs to be matched with our willingness to support it.

I want to thank Nicole Bowmer, Jason Chapman and Nick Harrington who represented the union at the bargaining table. Also Rev. Tom Disrud and Pat Malone who represented the Executive Team. Special thanks to John Bishop, a congregant with extensive labor negotiation experience, who helped the process, not representing either side.

Last, but not least, thanks to all those who have waited patiently and all those who have contributed generously and all those who affirmed the need for the church to take this step. This achievement is all of ours to celebrate.

Blessings,

Bill

15 Now PDX Disrupts, Walks Out of Minimum Wage Hearing

by Justin Norton-Kertson

On Monday dozens of supporters of a statewide $15 minimum wage marched through the state capitol building. They spent the morning going from office to office in large groups, talking to legislators and their staff about the importance of a statewide $15 minimum wage, and the importance of repealing the anti-worker, ALEC inspired preemption law that helps keep wages below the cost of living by preventing cities and counties from raising the minimum wage above the state level.

That afternoon, the Senate Workforce Committee held an informational hearing on raising Oregon’s minimum wage at which only one affected low-wage worker was given space to speak. The committee was greeted by a room full of low-wage workers and supporters in red 15 Now shirts. With about 40 15 Now supporters at the hearing, their presence dominated the room. At one point, all the $15 supporters were asked to stand to show their support, almost everyone in the room stood up except for the few business interests present.

Legislators heard about the various minimum wage campaigns and ballot initiatives underway, and also heard from business owners and others who support raising the minimum wage. A few business owners and lobbyists came to speak against raising the minimum wage.

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Speaking about the campaign to raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 per hour, Justin Norton-Kertson expressed skepticism that Democrats can come together and do the right thing for Oregon’s low-wage workers and their families. Republican state senator Knopp, illustrating Republican disdain for working class issues, stood up and walked out of the room in the middle of Norton-Kertson’s presentation.

“We did this back in April…and we all know how that turned out. Nothing, right? And we all know that the issue isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats. Democrats have majorities in both houses…it’s Democrats who can’t agree among themselves. So I’m left wondering what the point of this is. Why should we believe that this session, which is only a month long, will be any different than last session. And if we were to get any minimum wage increase what would the compromise be? Would it be high enough for places like Portland, Eugene, Hood River, Bend, Corvallis, and Ashland? Would it leave out farmworkers or bring in a tip credit?”

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Norton-Kertson also said that their lack of faith in Democrats is why a $15 ballot initiative was filed so early, and that if lawmakers won’t do the right thing, that they should at least refer both $15 and the repeal of Oregon’s minimum wage preemption law to the ballot so that voters can decide and do the right thing themselves.

Immediately after he finished speaking, 15 Now supporters stood up and mic checked the hearing, reiterating the call for a statewide $15 and the restoration of local control of minimum wage laws. In a call and response pattern, they asked why low-wage workers weren’t invited to speak at the hearing. They read off a long list of job types and industries in Oregon that pay less than $15 per hour, and then walked out of the hearing en masse chanting “$15 now and local control!”

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Because Black Lives Matter! $15 NOW!
For homecare workers! $15 NOW!
For childcare workers! $15 NOW!
For janitors! $15 NOW!
For single mothers! $15 NOW!
For food service workers! $15 NOW!
For security guards! $15 NOW!
For nursing home workers! $15 NOW!
For retail workers! $15 NOW!
For rural Oregon $15 NOW!
For college campus workers! $15 NOW!
For city workers! $15 NOW!
For social workers! $15 NOW!
For farm workers! $15 NOW!
For farm workers! $15 NOW!

Click Here to view the video stream of the hearing and the mic check.

Portland Rally Demands $15 and Union for Janitors, Homecare Workers

by Justin Norton-Kertson

In Portland hundreds of people marched and rallied for $15 and a union, as part of the national day of action that brought thousands of striking fast food workers into the streets in 270 cities across the country.  As many as 700 additional cities planned protests that supported low-wage workers in other industries.  

No fast food workers struck in Portland, but janitors and homecare workers raised their voices to demand a $15 wage, supported by the Portland Area Campaign for $15, a coalition made up of Portland Jobs With Justice, 15 Now PDX, SEIU 49, Laborers 483, AFSCME and others.

Nov10_2Home care worker Christine Pekert spoke at the rally, and when asked why she was fighting for a $15 wage she said, “I’ve been a home care worker for years, and I can remember days when I had to gather cans and bottles to buy gas to get to work. I need $15 and I’m here to support others demanding $15 too.”

At the Dia de los Muertos themed rally, workers and their supporters marched around the Pittock Building chanting “We work, we sweat, put $15 on the check!” to bring in good jobs with living wages. Earlier this year, the Pittock Building switched from union janitors to a low paying janitorial company, MBS, but the janitors and their allies are fighting back. The Pittock Building was also a focal point for $15 and a union protests earlier this year.

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Also at the rally were activists working towards a statewide minimum wage of $15, an effort supported by dozens of labor unions and community groups.

Jamie Partridge, a volunteer for 15 Now PDX and chief petitioner for the Oregonians for 15 statewide ballot measure, talked about the importance of labor unions supporting the Fight for $15:

“Labor unions are under direct attack across the country, and their support of a $15 minimum wage has the potential to attract the support of millions of workers whose lives would be drastically improved with a $15 wage and union rights.”

Partridge is one of hundreds of volunteers across the state gathering signatures to put the $15 minimum wage on the Oregon ballot in 2016. A competing ballot initiative for $13.50 was recently filed by some Oregon unions with the Raise the Wage coalition.

Nov10_4The Fight for $15 has spread throughout low-wage America to such an extent that national politics have been affected.  Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders added the $15 minimum wage to his campaign platform.  In support of the national day of action for $15 Sanders said:

“i stand with the thousands of workers on strike today to demand $15 and a union.  In the year 2015, a job has got to lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it.”

15 Now supporters are also demanding that state lawmakers end the statewide preemption law that prohibits cities from raising their own minimum wage, so that local initiatives in Portland, Eugene, and elsewhere can be directly presented to and passed by voters.

PSU Student Union, 15 Now Activists “Mic Check” Televised Minimum Wage Debate

Last night KATU and Portland State University held a debate and town hall on raising Oregon’s minimum wage. The need for a $15 minimum wage in Oregon dominated the evenings questions and discussion, which was often tense and heated. The audience clearly favored a $15 minimum wage, and was not shy about letting the opposition know they weren’t buying the doomsday arguments.

Olivia_TeresaMembers of 15 Now PDX and the Portland State University Student Union (PSUSU) turned out to the event in force. About three quarters of the way into the debate, Olivia Pace from PSUSU challenged Jeff Stone, Executive Director and CEO of the Oregon Association of Nurseries, on his assertion that President FDR never intended the minimum wage to be a living wage. Olivia then went on to challenge the assertion of Dr. Tom Potiowsky, chair of PSU’s Economics Department and former Oregon state economist, that poverty could be ended simply by ending discrimination.

Click here to see Olivia Pace of PSUSU challenge the debaters

After Olivia finished her exchange with Dr. Potiowsky, students and 15 Now activists temporarily disrupted the event with a mic check, explaining that the University wastes millions of dollars while refusing to pay low-wage workers on campus a $15 per hour wage, and highlighting groups of workers on campus that make less than $15.

Click here to see video of the mic check

debate2When the mic check ended the debate resumed as normal. At the end of the televised portion of the event, Ramon Ramirez, president of PCUN, Oregon’s farmworkers union, got a chance to tell the story of six farmworkers who were standing there next to him. They pick hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of high end shiitake mushrooms, make minimum wage, and got fired this past Sunday for asking for a 20 cent per hour raise.

Unfortunately, the whole story did not get to be told on air. The moderator of the event cut Ramon off to end the live broadcast. ThisDebate1 upset many members of the audience, who called out for the moderator to let Ramon finish his story. When the moderator insisted, members of the audience, led by students, erupted into a chant of “15 Now” that took over the last 15 seconds of the live broadcast.

Here is the entire broadcast in full:

World Homeless Day – $15 and the Fight Against Houslessness

This past Saturday was World Homeless Day, and it was also the birthday of Right 2 Dream Too, the well maintained and self-managed tent city in downtown Portland that has done more for the houseless community in four years, and done it with way fewer resources, than the City’s 10 Year Plan and millions of dollars spent could ever claim. It seems appropriate then to take a look at houselessness in Oregon and ask what a statewide $15 minimum wage would do to help alleviate the problem.

According to the most recent point-in-time count, on any given night there are some 4,000 houseless men, women, and children sleeping on the streets of Portland. Even more startling is that according to a 2013 report there are 38,000 children throughout Oregon who are considered homeless. That’s the fifth highest rate of child homelessness in the country.

Continue reading World Homeless Day – $15 and the Fight Against Houslessness

New Seasons and Other Businesses Push for Higher Minimum Wage

New Seasons Market announced that it will raise the minimum starting wage at all of its stores to $12 per hour in January 2016, a $2 increase from their current base pay of $10 per hour. ¿Por Qué No? Taqueria in Portland also announced that they are raising their minimum wage to $12.50 in January 2016, and will increase that to $15 by 2021.

According to a press release sent out yesterday, New Seasons is working with a number of other businesses to call “for state elected leaders to take action in 2016 on a minimum wage policy that meets the needs of Oregon’s diverse communities.” Among those other businesses are Grand Central Bakery, HOTLIPS Pizza, Looptworks, Neil Kelly, ¿Por Qué No?, The Joinery, Better World Club, Morel Ink, Chef’s Table, FMYI, and Grain & Gristle.

New Season’s CEO Wendy Collie stated, “The wage that supports self-sufficiency in urban areas such as Portland could be $15 per hour, while the differences in cost of living in rural communities could make the same wage unsustainable.”

We applaud New Seasons and these other businesses for committing to raising wages, for actively supporting the work to change state policy on the minimum wage, and for recognizing the need for $15 in Portland.  However, while we agree that Oregon communities are diverse in terms of cost of living, we wish to emphasize that $15 is not just what is needed in Portland, but rather what is need throughout our entire state.

Continue reading New Seasons and Other Businesses Push for Higher Minimum Wage