It’s no secret that the minimum wage bill passed by the Oregon state legislature is too low and too slow. It leaves working people outside of the Portland area behind, and it phases in so slowly that it does not and will not create a living wage anywhere in Oregon. It won’t make working families self-sufficient, and it fails to bring low-wage workers out of poverty. Nevertheless, due to a significant decline in organizational and voter support since the passage of this bill, the Oregonians for 15 coalition has regretfully suspended signature gathering and will withdraw its $15 statewide ballot initiative.
While it’s true that this bill is insufficient and doesn’t provide self-sufficiency for low-wage workers, it’s also important to recognize the real and historic significance of this bill’s passage both for Oregon and for the broader minimum wage movement throughout the United States. Not only will we have the highest statewide minimum wage in the country with 650,000 people across the state getting a raise, but this is notably also one of the largest victories yet in the national Fight for $15.
Portland and 24 other surrounding cities are will now have a $15 minimum wage with a phase in that, while too long, is along a similar timeframe as in cities like Seattle and Los Angeles. This means that hundreds of thousands of working people in 25 cities are getting a raise to $15. In terms of the sheer number of cities affected, there is no doubt this is the largest step toward $15 so far anywhere in the nation. So even if this law will not bring workers out of poverty, it is nevertheless an achievement that we should be proud of. We hope this accomplishment serves to inspire others across the nation to continue the Fight for $15 with increasing boldness.
This achievement is of further significance in terms of economic equity and racial justice in Oregon. As recently pointed out by SEIU Local 503, 50% of black and latino/a workers in Oregon are getting a raise, 60% of those getting a raise are women (many of them single mothers), and the anti-worker lobby failed to win carve outs and exemptions for farm workers, tipped workers, workers in training, or youth workers.
It is also important to understand what made this accomplishment possible. Governor Brown and other state leaders have been patting themselves on the back for a job well done. But the fact is that they never would have passed this bill or any minimum wage bill worth mentioning without the massive grassroots movement that was built by 15 Now and its allies like Jobs with Justice, PCUN, OSEA, OFNHP, Rural Organizing Project, Laborers Local 483, and many others. It is a movement that took form and shape in rallies with hundreds of people marching in the streets, packed town halls and hearing rooms, hard-nosed group lobbying, worksite actions, sit-ins and other non-violent direct action tactics at the capitol building, and hundreds of petitioners collecting 40,000 signatures by the legislative session.
That movement for a statewide $15 minimum wage was organized and run on a low budget by grassroots community and union activists, students, and low-wage workers, and it monopolized both the legislative and the media conversation around the minimum wage in Oregon for the past two years. It is a movement that won many concrete victories for $15 along the way, most notably for many AFSCME and SEIU members—all Multnomah County workers, full-time city workers and contract workers in Portland, for city workers in Milwaukie, and over 20,000 union home care workers throughout the state. These victories were the direct result of the grassroots movement and pressure that was built by 15 Now and its allies. The passage of SB 1532, which gets 25 cities in Oregon to $15 by 2023, is no different.
But state leaders aren’t just congratulating themselves for passing a minimum wage bill. Governor Brown has not been shy in publicly proclaiming that one of her primary motivations in getting a minimum wage bill passed is to undercut and eliminate the grassroots minimum wage movement and ballot measures that were stronger than the SB 1532 compromise. Unfortunately, while the bill utterly fails to create a living wage and bring low-wage workers out of poverty, it was successful at undercutting support for a statewide $15 ballot measure in 2016.
Since the state legislature passed SB 1532, we have spent a considerable amount of time in discussions with our coalition partners and analyzing the changing political landscape around the minimum wage issue in Oregon. While our coalition, Oregonians for 15, steadfastly maintains that the newly enacted minimum wage is too low and too slow, we also have to recognize the fact that organizational as well as voter support for the $15 ballot measure has significantly diminished since the bill was passed. This is most clearly apparent in the results of a poll that was recently run for Oregon Public Broadcasting. The poll shows that since the minimum wage bill passed, support among likely Oregon voters for the $15 ballot initiative has dropped from over 50% to only 28%.
As a result of that lack of organizational and voter support and with no small amount of regret, the chief petitioners and our coalition have made the decision to suspend signature gathering and withdraw IP 41, the statewide $15 minimum wage ballot initiative.
But while Governor Brown and other state leaders may have successfully stifled support for the $15 ballot initiative, they were not successful at destroying a movement for social and economic justice in this state. The movement is not going away.
The $15 movement will still thrive at the local level here in Oregon as workers who refuse to wait until 2023 continue to demand and fight for $15 Now at their places of work. There is a large and vibrant campaign for $15 and a union at the Portland airport, and a campaign was launched just two weeks ago for $15 Now for all campus workers and student workers at Portland State University. In the coming months we hope to see that campus movement grow and spread to Oregon State, University of Oregon, community colleges and other campuses across the state.
Beyond the wage fight, people are standing up for racial justice and against police brutality in Oregon. Movements against wage theft and for fair scheduling are getting underway. A grassroots tenants rights movement is blossoming in Portland and fighting for rent control, inclusionary zoning, an end to no-cause evictions, and an end to the brutal sweeps being inflicted upon houseless camps. That movement will continue to grow and will spread throughout our state as the housing crisis continues to intensify in the wake of the lack of a living wage. We use this opportunity to reiterate the demand that Governor Brown declare a housing state of emergency in Oregon so that real and timely action can be taken to solve this crisis and put out of control housing inflation and landlord greed in check.
We did not win exactly what we set out to achieve, a living wage in Oregon, and that is disappointing to say the least. But what we did achieve is truly historic in scope and significance. It will make a real difference in the lives of over half a million working Oregonians and their families, and in the national movement for a $15 minimum wage. 15 Now is honored and proud to have lead the charge, the coalition, and the movement that forced our corporate state legislature to concede this victory to the working class. We are extremely grateful, thankful, and humbled by all those who came out and volunteered their time, effort, passion, and creativity that was vital to our role in leading the struggle to raise Oregon’s minimum wage. So while there is still much work to do to ensure economic justice and equity in Oregon, all of those who fought to raise Oregon’s minimum wage owe it to ourselves and to each other to celebrate what we have accomplished.