Despite having become obvious that legislators will not pass a statewide $15 in Oregon, one thing was made clear at today’s rallies and hearing on raising the minimum wage—$15 still dominates the discussion, and the Fight for $15 isn’t going away even if legislators pass a lower minimum wage increase.
Dozens of $15 supporters rallied inside the capitol building rotunda in the early afternoon. Signs and banners that said “$15 Now or the ballot,” and “$15 Now repeal minimum wage preemption” were all over the capitol building. Repealing the state preemption law would allow local governments to raise their own minimum wage above the level set by the state.
After the rally, the crowd broke into groups and visited legislators’ offices with the same message, demanding $15 or the ballot. Big 3×5 foot copies of the ballot initiative petition with “88,000 signatures, $15 Now or the Ballot!” printed across it in big, bold letters were delivered to House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney.
Later, hundreds of supporters of raising Oregon’s minimum wage rallied on the steps of the capitol. Even there the support for $15 was noticeable throughout; 15 Now t-shirts and signs were visible throughout the crowd and at the end of the rally, Don’t Shoot PDX founder Teressa Raiford led the crowd in an enthusiastic “$15 Now” chant.
These rallies culminated in a joint hearing of the Senate Workforce and House Business and Labor committees on raising Oregon’s minimum wage. Unfortunately, not one legislator was willing to submit a bill for a statewide $15 minimum this session, indicative of a greater interest in cutting deals with business interests than ensuring that working families in Oregon actually make enough to be self-sufficient. Instead, the House Business and Labor Committee submitted a bill for $13.50 and preemption repeal, while Governor Kate Brown submitted a two-tiered minimum wage plan that would give $15.52 to the Portland area, and $13.50 to the rest of the state. Under the governor’s plan the new minimum wages would be fully phased in by 2022, a six year period, and then would continue to adjust for inflation after that.
Advocates of a $15 minimum wage made it clear during their rally, and during the hours of testimony at the hearing by low-wage workers and their allies, that neither plan was good enough. In particular, many who spoke at the podium insisted that a 6 year phase in was way to slow, and essentially made the increase useless. While many minimum wage supporters spoke in favor of repealing the minimum wage preemption law so that cities could go higher or phase in faster if they want, many also testified that anything less than $15 isn’t enough, and that the regional plan still leaves working families in rural Oregon in poverty, and exacerbates the urban-rural divide that exists in our state. Advocates stated over and over again that this is legislators’ last chance to pass $15, and that if they don’t then supporters will take it to the ballot.
Supporters of a $15 minimum wage have already collected tens of thousands of signatures. They expect to have at least 40 thousand by the beginning of the legislative session, and at least 50-60,000 by end of the session, putting them on track to have enough signatures collected by July to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. Oregonians for 15 currently has 11 paid signature gatherers, in addition to dozens of active volunteer signature gatherers who are helping to ensure that the initiative qualifies.