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.
Here is the entire broadcast in full: