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!