$15 or Bust in Oregon

by Nicholas Caleb

Oregon’s minimum wage debate has been mired in the failure of our state and local governments to take responsibility for lifting working Oregonians out of poverty. Given this context, many were surprised to hear about Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek’s proposal for a $13/hr minimum wage

State Democrats seemed stumped on how to follow through with their campaign promises to raise the minimum wage, caught between Senate President Peter Courtney’s staunch opposition on the one hand, and on the other a statewide movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour; an effort supported by over a 100 labor and community groups. The demand has always been $15, but Salem’s failure to pass Kotek’s $13/hr proposal was also a betrayal of the working poor, a constituency the Democratic Party insists that it will protect in exchange for their votes. And even if Oregon Democrats had rallied to pass Kotek’s bill, it still wouldn’t be enough to lift working Oregonians out of poverty. Those who think that $15 is “too high” seem oddly distanced from the economic reality faced by working people in Oregon, where soaring rent and stagnant wages have produced a perfect storm of economic insecurity. This year, the nonpartisan group Alliance for a Just Society calculated that working people in Oregon needed a wage of at least $15.96/hr in order to meet basic needs. 

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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.

Portland Joins National Day of Action For $15 Minimum Wage

April15 PDX March
Demonstrators for a $15 minimum wage march through the streets of downtown Portland. Photo by Nicholas Caleb

The national movement for a $15 minimum wage has come to Portland. Building on momentum from Monday’s packed minimum wage hearing in Salem and the announcement that 15 Now Oregon will file a ballot measure for a statewide $15 minimum wage, over 400 community members and workers marched through downtown Portland as part of a historic national day of awareness, action, and strikes for $15 taking place in over 200 cities in the U.S. and countries around the world.

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AFSCME Local 3580 Metro Temp Workers Win Huge Raise, Great First Contract!

Temporary workers represented by AFSCME Local 3580 won huge wage raises in their first negotiated contract this week. All those represented will get cost of living adjustments. Hazardous waste workers get a raise from $13.55 per hour to a minimum wage of $17.50 per hour.  Zoo security wages go from $12 to a $15.75 minimum. Scale House workers also jumpy to a $15.75 minimum wage, and Program Animals workers at the Zoo jump to a minimum wage of $16.01.

These are huge gains and we congratulate the affected workers and the union representatives who fought for them at the bargaining table on huge victory.

A statement from AFSCME reads:

“After over three months of bargaining we have finally released an agreement. while not perfect, we feel we made some great gains, especially to wages. Big thanks to our Members, Jobs With Justice, and 15 Now for the support. Also, Metro management deserves credit for making positive movement that will help workers and the community for a long time.”

AFSCME Victory

While this is a great victory for more workers, a victory that helps us gain momentum to build and win $15 for even more working people in Portland and across Oregon, we must recognize it as just that, a start. Portland Metro now joins Multnomah County and the City of Portland in not only recognizing, but in acting on the fact that anything less than $15 is not enough in the Portland area. We call on Metro Council to take further action to ensure that all Metro workers have at least a $15 minimum wage and a clear and unobstructed path to unionization regardless of their particular employment classification.

No one who works should live in poverty.

New budget forecast shows Portland has more than enough money to raise all city workers to $15 NOW

In the weeks running up to Portland City Council’s unanimous vote to increase the city’s Fair Wage Policy to $15 per hour, as well as for full-time, permanent city workers, Mayor Hales justified the decision to leave out some 2,000 “casual” Parks Department workers by quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” The implication being that if the city could afford to raise those workers to $15 right now too, they would do it. The other implication of course being that the city can’t afford to do it.

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