Category Archives: The Fight for Fifteen

Senate Bill 1532 – Is It Enough?

On February 12, 2016 the Oregon Senate passed an increase in the minimum wage in a 16 – 12 vote. It must now go to the State House before becoming law.

Such a vote would never have happened if it wasn’t for the campaign efforts of grassroots organizations such as 15 Now and the state’s labor union’s. For too many years state legislatures have been content to stand aside as the minimum wage dramatically fell below what is necessary for a decent living. What was different this time was that workers’ organizations, fueled by the momentum of the $15 Now movement nationally, were not going to take no for an answer when it comes to raising the minimum wage.

Does this bill provide what is needed for Oregon’s workers and their families? Does it at least come close enough or will we have to go through the expense of a ballot campaign in the Fall?

The plan slated to go to the House, known as Senate Bill 1532, would take six years to raise wages to $14.75 in the Portland Metro area (a 59 percent increase), $13.50 in counties with  mid-sized cities such as Eugene, Bend, and Medford (a 46 percent increase), and $12.50 in sparsely populated areas (a 35 percent increase). The new minimum wages would be fully phased in by 2022.

Will this be enough to lift Oregon’s low-wage workers and their families out of poverty?

According to study after study the answer is no, these increases wouldn’t lift Oregon’s workers out of poverty even in 2015. By 2022 Oregon’s minimum wage will be all the more behind what it takes for workers pay the bills.

Would greater minimum wage increases than those contained in what the Senate passed have adverse effects on the economy? Not if you go by Oregon’s own history. In the late 80s – early 90s Oregon’s minimum wage increased 42 percent over only two years. In the 1970s the minimum wage was increased 80 percent over only four years. In each case these raises helped Oregon’s economy grow, and the unemployment rate went down in the years following the increases.

In addition to being too low and too slow, Senate Bill 1532 doesn’t even lift preemption, the law that prevents local governments from establishing an adequate minimum wage for the areas they govern. Without this, the ability of local communities to raise their wages according to workers’ local needs remains tied by a law made in the interests of wealthy corporations.

The Oregon Senate’s raises aren’t so much the result of determining what workers and the economy need. Rather they are based on a cold political calculation. On one hand the legislature does not want to confront their Big Business funders by demanding they pay a fair wage. On the other hand, they want to prevent a minimum wage ballot initiative from going to Oregon’s voters, which will cost their Big Business friends more. Senate Bill 1532 is the crumb the legislature are throwing Oregon’s workers to shake off the growth of a grassroots social movement for a statewide $15 minimum wage and real economic justice.

Both the AFL-CIO and SEIU 503 have passed resolutions supporting the $15 minimum wage ballot initiative, and to win at the ballot will demand serious resources from the unions to counter the flood of corporate money that will be spent in an effort to defeat it. More importantly, it will demand the unity of the unions and grassroots supporters to build a popular momentum that corporate dollars cannot stop.

In a state election year that will see a ballot that directly attacks the existence of public sector unions by outlawing closed shops, it is all the more important that unions act on behalf of all workers to win a $15 minimum wage. In taking this on the public at large will see that any attack on the unions is also an attack on their ability to win victories that benefit everyone except for those deep pocketed interests the legislatures are too beholden to.

In short, union leadership needs to commit to $15 with a serious and united campaign rather than accept Senate Bill 1532, not only for their members and all Oregon workers, but also for unions’ ability to defeat corporate attacks against them as well.

Oregon’s Governor Already Compromising on Minimum Wage…Again

Hardly a week has gone by since Governor Brown unveiled her grand compromise on minimum wage and she is already compromising again, watering down her proposal even more.

Originally, after almost a year of utter silence and complete lack of leadership from Governor Brown on this issue, she proposed $15.52 in six years for the 25 cities within the Portland urban growth boundary, and $13.50 in six years for the rest of the state with no restoration of local control over minimum wage laws. This plan was already a compromise from the previous session where a statewide $15 minimum wage over a shorter three year phase in—and the restoration of local control of minimum wage laws—were the only proposals with any traction.

Now after more secret negotiations and compromises, Brown’s proposal has been lowered to $14.50 and $13.25. What did not change about her proposal is the ridiculously long phase in of six years, which renders the raise virtually meaningless. What also didn’t change is that local control is still not restored. As we expected, local control was the first of many things to be compromised away in Democrats’ fetish for ensuring that anything they pass meets at least some scant approval of their corporate election funders.

True, workers get a smaller and insufficient raise a few months earlier. The original proposal called for a first step to $11.79 in the Portland area and $10.25 for the rest of the state on January 1, 2017. The new proposal has a first step of $9.75 in July 2016 for the whole state. That is $2 per hour less in the Portland area and 50 cents per hour less everywhere else. This new and further diluted proposal is not impressive. There is nothing here to get excited about.

It is, however, exactly what is to be expected from corporate politicians who are much more interested in playing games and brokering deals with wealthy business donors and lobbyists than they are in fighting for Oregon’s working families. Big business is getting exactly what it wants from their new Governor: the state legislature that they have purchased will continue to have singular control over minimum wage laws in the state—to the detriment of local economies—and businesses get a minimum wage increase with a phase in that is too long to be of any significant value in terms of ending poverty wages and ensuring that working families are self-sufficient.

As an organization that is lead and run by low-wage workers and their allies, we are having difficulty finding anything in this compromised proposal that is worth celebrating. It is one thing to sit in a well funded office and praise the proposal because low-wage workers get a smaller raise a little sooner than in the original plan. It is another thing to actually be that low-wage worker, to look at your next paycheck and realize that your pay is so low that you didn’t even notice the extra 50 cents per hour and that you really needed that other two dollar now.

A statewide $15 minimum wage is not only demonstrably what is needed in Oregon to ensure that working families are self-sufficient, but it also was and still can be a viable and winnable fight. Two years before the November 2016 election, a statewide $15 minimum wage was already polling favorably among a majority of likely Oregon voters. If the labor movement unites and stands strong for $15, if we work side-by-side to reignite a working class fighting spirit and build an empowered workers’ movement, then we can win the Fight for $15 and we can win it for all Oregonians.

That victory is still within reach. Let us unite and Fight for $15!

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

Flood the Capitol! – $15 Rally & Minimum Wage Hearing

For the past two years 15 Now PDX has lead the movement to win a $15 minimum and repeal the anti-worker, ALEC inspired law that prevents cities in Oregon from raising the minimum wage themselves. Multiple ballot measures have now been filed to raise Oregon’s minimum wage at the 2016 ballot, including a $15 initiative, an initiative to restore local control of minimum wage laws, and another for the lower number of $13.50.

This coming legislative session will be our last chance before the 2016 election to convince our legislators to do the right thing: pass a statewide $15 minimum wage, restore local control, and avoid a ballot fight. But they won’t do this unless we show up in Salem in overwhelming force of numbers and demand it. That means that we need your help. Low-wage workers and allies, labor unions, community groups, and supportive small businesses, rural and urban Oregonians unite, flood the capitol and demand $15!

On January 14, 2016 state legislators will be holding a public hearing on raising Oregon’s minimum wage. Join us at the capitol building for an afternoon rally and then the evening hearing where we will demand a statewide $15 minimum wage and local control with no one left out: not farm workers, not restaurant workers, not teenagers or new employees, and not rural Oregonians!

Stand up to corporations who are trying to keep wages low. No more poverty wage subsidies for big corporations! Anything less than $15 is not enough anywhere in Oregon. A regional minimum wage that leaves those outside of the Portland metro area with lower wages only helps increase region income disparity in our state and leaves rural Oregonians behind.

Join us and flood the capitol to demand $15 NOW for all of Oregon! There will be open public testimony. Have your voice heard!

See the Facebook event page

There will be free transportation available from Portland and back for those who need it. If you need transportation, or if you can be a carpool driver, then fill out this form and we’ll be in touch with you with more details in January.

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.

hearing_Justin2

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?”

hearing_Justin1

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!”

hearing_Justin3

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.

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

In a Renter State of Emergency, Stagnating Wages Mean Bold Action Needed Now

Portland Area Campaign Aims to Raise Wages to $15/h for 30,000 workers by 2017; Statewide Ballot Measure Would Raise Minimum Wage to $15/h by 2020.

Portland, OR — Yesterday, the Bureau of Labor and Industry announced that there would be no minimum wage increase on January 1, 2016. This announcement came despite the fact that prices in Portland continue to climb at a rate that is unsustainable for hundreds of thousands of struggling low-wage workers in the Portland area. This comes on the heel of a declaration of a Renter State of Emergency on Tuesday by the Community Alliance of Tenants, a local renters’ rights organization.

Working people are struggling to pay for school and pay off student debt, toiling to keep up with increasing child care costs and medical expenses. In the first half of 2015 alone food prices in the Portland area increased by about 4%, and according to a new report by Axiometrics, rent in Portland increased by 15% over the past year, the highest rental inflation rate in the nation.

“The fact that there won’t be any minimum wage increase in January only highlights the need to put $15 on the ballot,” says Jamie Partridge, chief petitioner for the Oregonians for 15 ballot measure effort, which will be launching its petition effort with a statewide day of signature gathering on September 26th. “No one who works should live in poverty, and the rent isn’t going to stop going up just because wages are stagnant. Oregon needs $15.”

But the Portland Campaign for $15 isn’t waiting for the legislature or for ballot measures. The campaign is made up of a coalition of local unions, faith and community organizations that are working together to raise wages for workers to $15 now.

“Jobs with Justice and 15 Now PDX are working with unions and community groups to raise wages to $15 for at least 30,000 low-wage workers in Portland by 2017 through contract bargaining, new organizing campaigns, and voluntary commitments from faith organizations, community-based organizations, and small businesses,” says Diana Pei Wu. Wu is a chief petitioner for the $15 ballot measure, as well as Executive Director for Portland Jobs with Justice, which is leading the Portland Campaign for $15 coalition. “Working families in Portland can’t wait for legislators to broker deals, or for an election that is a year away. Workers need a raise now. They need $15 now. And that’s what we are winning, together.”

New Portland Restaurants Prove Paying $15 Doesn’t Have to mean Higher Prices

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.

Continue reading New Portland Restaurants Prove Paying $15 Doesn’t Have to mean Higher Prices