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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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!”
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.
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.
Home 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
Members 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.
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.
When 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. This 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.
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.
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.
On Monday evening at the Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem, community groups, labor unions, low-wage workers, and activists from throughout the state flooded the committee hearing room and spilled into overflow rooms to express strong support for a bill that would raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over three years.
Seattle and San Francisco both approved a minimum wage of $15 last year, and Oregon would be the first state to follow suit. At a press conference before the hearing, 15 Now Oregon representatives announced plans to file for a ballot measure this week, and to begin collecting signatures to qualify for the 2016 election.
Supporters of a $15 minimum wage urged legislators to initiate a floor vote on SB 610, and expressed concern that big business lobbyists were working behind the scenes to kill the bill. Dozens wore red T-shirts while hundreds more wore green buttons, all emblazoned with the 15 Now Oregon logo.
The Oregonian’s recent article shed’s strange light on the Legislative Revenue Office (LRO) analysis of the effects of a minimum wage increase and the “benefits cliff.” The analysis looks at a single parent with two children who gets a childcare tax subsidy. It states that while at a $12 or $13 minimum wage these families fall off the benefits cliff (meaning they actually end up losing money each month after accounting for the public benefits they will lose as a result of having a higher income), a $15 minimum wage leaves these families with about $50 per month extra after accounting for the public assistance benefits lose.
The Oregonian’s article come with a massive, super-sized font headline about ONLY having $49 extra with $15 minimum wage, as if this is a reason to leave the minimum wage in Oregon at a poverty level. The article focuses entirely on the grossly hyperbolized notion that if the minimum wage goes up people will actually lose money.
The article misses the real point entirely, it fails to come to the glaringly obvious conclusion that a $15 minimum actually solves the benefits cliff problem. It puts people on top of the cliff, while anything less leaves families falling off the cliff. With a $15 minimum wage working people in Oregon will have the dignity of being able to provide adequate housing, food, and health insurance for their families without having to rely on taxpayers for assistance. It even leaves these families with a little left over at the end of the month. This is important, because working people deserve dignity. No one who works should live in poverty.
The University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) just released a report addressing this exactly issue of Oregonians on public assistance. The report shows that taxpayers in Oregon spend over $1.7 billion per year to subsidize the poverty wages of massively profitable corporations by paying for the public assistance that goes to those corporations’ low-wage workers. Raising the minimum wage to $15/hr will reduce the amount that taxpayers are spending to corporate low wages. We can then use that freed up money to fund public education, or provide affordable housing, or help fund single payer healthcare for all Oregonians.
The LERC report also found that 400,000 workers in our state currently work in low-wage jobs, and that 197,000 of them received public assistance. That means that there are hundreds of thousands of working Oregonians who make less than $15/hr and DID NOT receive public assistance. They would benefit directly from an increase in wages. For these workers the benefits cliff does not exist. They will have much more than $49 extra at the end of the month when we increase the minimum wage $15/hr.
What the LRO report shows is that $15 is the right number for Oregon’s minimum wage. Families can’t survive on $9.25. A $12 or $13 minimum wage is still a poverty wage here in our state, and would leave families falling off the benefits cliff. Only a $15 minimum wage is enough to prevent families from falling off the cliff while giving working Oregonians the dignity of earning a wage that allows them to provide for their families. Oregon needs a raise. Oregon needs $15 Now.
Don’t Shoot Portland has endorsed a $15 minimum wage and not just for the City of Portland. Responding to today’s news that all Multnomah County employees have won a $15 minimum wage, Don’t Shoot Portland organizer Teressa Raiford said, “That’s a great step, but we need to make sure we win $15 for the whole state, for all of Oregon.”
Don’t Shoot Portland has shown a tremendous ability to harness the disillusioned outrage of a new generation of civil rights activists in Portland, to draw relevant connections between Ferguson and police brutality and killings here locally in Portland, and translate it all into powerful public action and discourse. It is worth our time to explore how the problem of systemic racism and police oppression of communities of color goes hand in hand with the problem of systemic poverty and income inequality.
Racism, racial profiling, and police oppression are serious problems that are faced daily by black communities throughout Oregon and the U.S. From the earliest days of American law when black people where legally deemed the property of white men, through Jim Crow and Oregon’s exclusion laws, down to the prison-industrial complex today the system was, in fact, never meant to serve and protect black communities. Today, one unarmed black person is shot and killed by police every 28 hours in America.
The militarized police forces in this country are used to protect corporate wealth and power. This is certainly true when it comes to keeping communities of color in poverty and prison, and it is true when it comes to breaking strikes and squelching first amendment expression. The racism and systemic problems that allow police to get away with murdering unarmed black men are on and the same as the racism and systemic problems that allow massive corporations and a few mostly white individuals to amass and hoard vast amounts of wealth while communities of color live in poverty.
It is no secret that poverty is one of the major causes of violence and crime. Many of these “crimes” are nothing more than crimes of survival. Crimes people commit because they are hungry and desperate, they have kids to feed, and they can’t survive on the poverty wages offered by the American economy. So they seek black market and other opportunities to provide for themselves and their families. Like Eric Garner selling single cigarettes on a street corner in New York City. Now he is dead.
When talking about how these issues intersect, Teressa Raiford said it best and simply when she said, “We all know that we aren’t going to end violence unless we end poverty.”
When it comes to poverty, communities of color are disproportionately represented as a result of the racism that has been built into the American economic and legal system. For example, white people make up 88% of Oregon’s population, and only 15% of white people in Oregon live in poverty according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy. On the other hand, while black people make up a disturbingly small 2% of Oregon’s population, a staggering 41% of black Oregonians live in poverty. This shows that just like police oppression, violence and murder, systemic poverty is a serious issue for communities of color. Systemic racism (a tool for dividing the working class) in a country who’s laws were never meant to protect and serve the black community is at the heart of both the problems of poverty and police violence in that community.
Poverty is not an issue of laziness, or a matter of a lack of skills or education. Those families and parents work hard to try and provide for their families. It is simply a matter of a system built upon the fact that a few people can get disgustingly rich only if the masses are either in slavery, or are paid poverty wages.
In the same way, communities of color are kept in poverty and in prison because our unjust economic system needs low-wage workers, it needs soldiers, its needs cannon fodder. And so communities of color are hounded and oppressed by militarized police forces. They are shoveled down a school-to-prison pipelinethat ensures our prison-industrial complex is continuously fed new slave labor for companies that use prisoners as a labor force. Many of these companies, such as Target and Macy’s, are among the same companies that are guilty of paying poverty wages to their non-prison labor force. It is also ensured, through background checks and laws allowing businesses to discriminate against felons, that once out of prison people remain in poverty and are unable to find good jobs and move up the economic ladder. They are relegated to poverty wage jobs.
If all these problems are systemic, then the solution to these problems is also systemic. We must Fight for $15 to help alleviate the pressure of poverty on communities of color and all other communities suffering from systemic income inequality. We must fight to end police brutality and racial profiling, to end a racist system in which police can indiscriminately kill unarmed black people and get away with it.
We need to join together, unite across movements into one mass movement to create the systemic changes necessary for real justice to be ensured. We need a new civil rights era with people engaging in mass protests, strikes, and walkouts to demand justice: economic justice, racial justice, social justice, environmental justice…justice for all!