High Stakes, Low Expectations for Minimum Wage Raise at the Legislature: Oregonians for $15 reveals credible ballot threat

by Shamus Cooke

While Salem politicians prepare for a seemingly uneventful legislative session, Oregon’s low-wage workers are getting crushed by the rising costs of rent, utilities, food, and other basic necessities.  

For the over 700,000 people in Oregon employed in low-wage work, the economic insecurity is palpable. But this urgency is absent in Salem, where the once-booming enthusiasm to raise the minimum wage now appears only outside of the capitol building.

A telling example of legislators’ drooping energy is the number of legislative sponsors for a statewide $15 minimum wage. During last year’s session there were 16 co-sponsors of $15 legislation. This year there is zero.   Legislators still have time to mirror the reality felt by Oregon’s low-wage workers; but that time is shrinking, since the ‘short session’ begins in February and lasts only five weeks. [Read more…]

The Fight for $15 in Eugene Blurs Traditional Political Divides

by Justin Norton-Kertson

Oregon cities and counties can’t raise the minimum wage themselves for all workers within their boundaries, but that hasn’t stopped local activists and low-wage workers from fighting for $15 at the local level, and it hasn’t stopped local governments from responding to pressure by raising the minimum wage to $15 for their own employees.

So far all of the local campaigns and victories for $15 for municipal workers in Oregon have been in the Portland metro area. In late 2014 all Multnomah County employees won a $15 minimum wage. In February 2015 Portland City Council passed a resolution guaranteeing a $15 minimum for all full-time city workers and for contract workers like security guards and janitors who work on city property. More recently, in October the City of Milwaukie passed an ordinance ensuring that no city worker’s wages—including seasonal, part-time workers, and interns—would fall below $15 per hour.

Now for the first time, the Fight for $15 for municipal employees is branching out beyond the Portland metro area and into Eugene. Groups like 15 Now Eugene, Eugene-Springfield Solidarity Network, and a coalition of others are advocating for a $15 minimum wage for all city workers and contract workers. At the request of Councilwoman Claire Syrett, the Eugene City Council is now slated to discuss the issue this month.

15 Now Eugene held a rally with a coalition of other organizations in October to kick off their campaign for $15 for city workers and contract workers.
15 Now Eugene held a rally with a coalition of other organizations in October to kick off their campaign for $15 for city workers and contract workers. Photo by Lonnie Douglas.

The struggle for $15 for municipal workers in Eugene is particularly significant because it illustrates how as this movement continues to spread from the city and urban landscape into more rural areas, it blurs traditional political and ideological party lines that have kept working people in Oregon divided for far too long. These are divisions that have deep roots here in Oregon, and certainly no less so in other states throughout the country.

Normally one would expect with a fair amount of certainty to see people on the left line up in favor of, and people on the right line up against a proposed worker rights issue (or “business regulation”) like a minimum wage increase. However, as the struggle in Eugene is showing raising the minimum wage and the Fight for $15 is an issue that has the potential to break through such superficial barriers and unite working people behind a banner of common class interest. All low-wage workers struggle to feed their families and make ends meet. All low-wage workers need a raise. This basic struggle and need exists in the lives of low-wage workers, indeed in lives of all working people regardless of whether any individual one of us considers ourselves liberal or conservative, Republican, Democrat, socialist, or independent. [Read more…]