Why Portland Teachers Support a $15 Minimum Wage

Teachers on the march for fair wages and working conditions. Photo by Portland Association of Teachers
Teachers on the march for fair wages and working conditions. Photo by Portland Association of Teachers

Poverty wages prevent children from getting the most out of their education. Here’s why the Portland Association of Teachers supports a $15 minimum wage for Oregon.

By Gwendolyn Sullivan

Every day teachers across our state see the devastating effect poverty has on our students. When kids come to school hungry, or they are dealing with housing that has them bouncing from place to place, they can’t focus and struggle with learning. Making connections with their classmates and teachers is much more difficult.

Poor students also suffer the cumulative effect of stress, as their families are routinely forced to make impossible choices like buying groceries or keeping the lights on.

And poverty robs students of one of the most critical pieces of a successful education—family involvement. Helping your kids with their homework—much less attending football games or school plays—is nearly impossible when you’re forced to hold down two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Today, close to one in four children in Oregon lives in poverty. This is a crisis, not just for our students but for our entire state, and it should have legislators in Salem up in arms.

The same is true for the skyrocketing inequality we’ve witnessed over the past generation.

We live in the richest country in history. But today income and wealth are concentrated in the hands of far too few, while too many of the rest of us have been left behind.

A key factor explaining both runaway inequality and the epidemic of childhood poverty is the steady erosion of the minimum wage.

Forty-five years ago the minimum wage was worth more in today’s dollars than our current state minimum of $9.25. In fact, if the federal minimum wage had kept pace with productivity over this same period, it would be more than $20 an hour.

So it’s no surprise that after two generations of stagnation workers across the country are taking matters into their own hands, organizing and even striking for $15. What seemed like pie in the sky three years ago is now the law of the land in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and is under consideration in a dozen other cities and states.

According to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, almost 600,000 working Oregonians would directly benefit from a $15 minimum wage, and 350,000 children in Oregon have at least one parent who would get a raise if we implement $15 statewide.

This is why Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) has joined with parents, and over 100 community and union allies here in Oregon to push for a statewide minimum wage of $15. The state legislature did not pass HB 2009, which would have implemented a $15 minimum wage over the course of three years. But even though the Democratic majority in Salem didn’t do it, the people still can thanks to a ballot measure filed by Oregonians for 15.

As teachers, we’re standing up for the schools Portland’s students deserve. But what kind of community—what kind of economy—do their parents deserve? We want all our students to show up ready to learn, equipped to excel in the classroom. But many can’t as long as their parents are stuck juggling a string of minimum-wage jobs because the rent won’t wait.

No one who works full-time should live in poverty. No child should ever have to live in poverty. Oregon is ready for a $15 minimum wage.

Gwendolyn Sullivan is the president of the Portland Association of Teachers.

Oregonian Editors Miss the Mark

Members of Laborers Local 483, one of more than 100 groups that have endorsed a $15 minimum wage, rally in front of Portland City Hall. Photo by Sam Caravana of the Oregonian
Members of Laborers Local 483, one of more than 100 groups that have endorsed a $15 minimum wage for Oregon, rally in front of Portland City Hall. Photo by Sam Caravana of the Oregonian

The Oregonian editorial board is desperate to discredit the groundswell of support for the $15 minimum wage ballot measure.

In a July 6 editorial titled Minimum Wage Advocates Struggle to Walk the Talk, the Oregonian castigates the advocacy group Working America for hiring at a wage of $12.25 an hour with an increase to $15 at 90 days. The editors claim that this apparent inconsistency is evidence that a $15 minimum wage is not practical for our state. 15 Now Oregon hopes that readers will recognize this attack for what it is: an opportunistic attempt to discredit all minimum wage advocacy groups and to distract from the broad support for the $15 ballot measure. [Read more…]

On Minimum Wage, Oregonians Should Not Settle for Less Than $15

Supporters of a $15 minimum wage rally in Medford, Oregon on April 15, 2015.
Supporters of a $15 minimum wage rally in Medford, Oregon on April 15, 2015.

House Speaker Kotek is pushing a $13 minimum wage for Oregon. Here’s why $15 is still the right number for working families in poverty.

By Kristi Wright & Denise Brooks

In his June 15 article “Oregon House speaker unveils $13 minimum wage proposal,” Jonathan J. Cooper reports on the efforts of Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, to “keep the issue in lawmakers’ minds.” He got a few things wrong about the statewide ballot measure for a $15 minimum wage, and implied that the campaign is mainly backed by liberals and labor groups in Portland. As co-founders of 15 Now Southern Oregon and leaders in 15 Now Oregon, the reach of which extends far beyond Portland, we assure you that there is much more to the story. [Read more…]

How a $15 Minimum Wage Helps All Workers: Unions Must Step Up

15 Never: Ronald McDonald and Wally Walmart antagonize a crowd of workers in Salem, Oregon.
15 Never: Ronald McDonald and Wally Walmart antagonize a crowd of workers in Salem, Oregon. Photo by Mark Colman

A $15 minimum wage would give all workers more leverage to fight back against the growing problem of economic inequality.

By Shamus Cooke via CounterPunch

Giant corporations and the wealthy are naturally united in their hatred of the $15 minimum wage. Surprising, however, is the strong opposition sometimes encountered by workers who make barely above $15 an hour.

The anti-$15 logic of these workers varies. Some simply repeat the misinformation they hear on the media, that a higher minimum wage would cause mass inflation and unemployment, regardless of the fact that — according to the U.S. Department of Labor — there is no evidence to support these claims.

[Read more…]