15 Now Oregon Shows Growing Strength, Announces 2015 Legislation for a $15 Minimum Wage in Oregon

After recently delivering over 5,000 signatures in support of a $15 minimum wage at an economic fairness town hall meeting hosted by Oregon Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum and Representative Rob Nosse, the fight for a $15 minimum wage in Oregon continued to show its growing strength this week with the holding of the first statewide 15 Now Oregon general meeting.

Held at SEIU Local 503’s union hall and organized by 15 Now PDX, dozens of people attended the meeting including members from LiUNA 483, SEIU Locals 503 and 49, Oregon State Association of Letter Carriers, Oregon Education Association, Portland Association of Teachers, Rural Organizing Project, Health Care for All Oregon, the Democratic Socialists of America, Socialist Alternative, and International Socialist Organization.  People came from all over Oregon to attended the meeting including from places such as Beaverton, Oregon City, Salem, Medford, and Ashland, and of course Portland. There are also new 15 Now chapters in The Dalles and Eugene that did not have representatives at the meeting. Low-wage professionals represented included various low wage food service and home care workers, who gave testimony about their stories and experiences with low paid work.

There was a welcome surprise at the meeting as it was announced that minimum wage bills for the 2015 state legislative session have been submitted to the state’s Legislative Counsel from both the Oregon State House and the Oregon Senate. The bills submitted include bills to raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15/hr, and to repeal Oregon’s minimum wage preemption law that prevents cities from raising the minimum wage above the level set by the state. If the $15/hr minimum wage bill passes Oregon will be the first whole state to enact a $15 living wage, which will make Oregon the national leader on the minimum wage question.

 

Don’t Settle For Less: $15 Now!

Shamus Cooke

Momentum is still growing for a $15 minimum wage. On August 4th150 cities rallied for $15 and union rights, with striking fast food workers engaging in civil disobedience. Meanwhile, San Francisco voters are expected to pass a $15 referendum in November, and Seattle starts to phase in $15 on January 1st. The city of SeaTac, Washington has lived under $15 all year, proving false the predictions of the 1% that economic collapse would ensue.

The savvier establishment politicians understand the populist wave of $15, and are taking action to stem the tide. For example, the mayors of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles have endorsed various versions of a $13 minimum wage, though Chicago’s mayor endorsing a $13 minimum wage for only city workers in 2018 isn’t likely to quiet the streets.

While elite politicians understandably fear the growing muscle of $15, many on the political left have underestimated its strength, dismissing the movement as a fluff campaign led by opportunistic unions. This narrative includes some valid criticisms but misses the big picture entirely.

The hidden power behind the $15 demand is the unpredictable dynamic it creates. When non-activist working people are suddenly activated on a national scale, the seeds of a social movement begin to sprout.

In the same way that people are demanding dignity and justice in Ferguson, the $15 minimum galvanizes previously inactive segments of the population. If masses of working people become politically active, thereby reflecting a conscious awareness of a battle between opposed social classes, then the social-economic equilibrium of the country favoring the 1% begins to shake. An emerging threat to the balance of power is ultimately what’s terrifying the politicians.

The “fight for $15” is the first time in decades that working class people have been inspired by a bold demand. Two years ago $15 was a ridiculous pipe dream. But now $15 is starting to materialize, proving to millions of onlookers that it’s achievable. Hopelessness can turn into hope and powerlessness into power when $15 is fought for and won. Winning a once-impossible demand inspires confidence to make new equally impossible demands.

If the Occupy movement had been armed with the $15 demand, its reach would have widened to broader layers of the community, helping expand the movement’s life. The $15 movement is one of Occupy’s many children; no movement engaged the nation more over income inequality, but Occupy failed to raise any demands or solutions.

The most direct route to attack income inequality and poverty is a $15 minimum wage, which would directly benefit 51 million people and indirectly help 30 million more, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The era of corporate-dominated national politics and the accompanying inequality in wealth adds an extra layer of power to $15: we are midway through a period of uncontrollable neoliberalism, where a demand for $15 directly confronts the ceaseless attacks on working people’s living standards.

Of course, millions of people who make less than $15 an hour don’t need this explained to them. The demand is automatically accepted, in the same way it is automatically rejected by the elite, who stand to lose $billions in profits to rising workers’ wages.

Another vital component of the $15 demand is the role of organized labor, whose ranks include millions more working people. Unions birthed the $15 demand in 2012 with SEIU-organized fast food strikes. This then led to unions successfully winning $15 in SeaTac, Washington, and then Seattle.

Labor’s connection to $15 has shown non-union people why unions matter. After decades of political irrelevance because of their willingness to accept concessions without a fight, unions are beginning to wake up; and only unions could have launched the $15 movement so successfully, since they remain the only working class organization with enough resources to successfully engage battle with the 1%.

The normally timid voice of unions is due to their links to the Democratic Party, which consistently insists that unions water down their demands to appease the 1%, thus inspiring nobody. Union politics have bored union members and the community for years. The $15 demand is thus a break from boring union politics and a break with the Democrats in action over a serious issue, which all activists — union and non-union — should encourage.

The ultimate reason why $15 inspires working people is that it connects with their desire for a dignified life. This sentiment lies at the core of revolution. The Arab Spring consisted of average people raising the voices after decades of political invisibility, in a region of mass unemployment, growing inequality in wealth, growing poverty, and unresponsive political elites. In the U.S. the defeat of segregation was directly challenged by the simple yet profound slogan “I Am a Man,” which reflected the broad-based demand for dignity among African Americans.

The tens of millions of working poor and unemployed in the U.S. are beginning to demand dignity, with potentially profound implications. A $15 minimum wage will not solve all of our society’s social problems, but it can trigger a powerful process for social change that has been absent in the U.S. for decades.

A national $15 minimum wage can be won if average people are inspired to join labor and community groups in the streets in ongoing actions. It takes a living wage like $15 to inspire action in the streets, while the Democratic Party’s demand of $10.10 — or slightly higher — does not. Keeping momentum towards $15 is vital; therefore $10.10 is not a step in the right direction but a barrier to $15, since it blocks energy at a crucial moment.

The national demand is $15 because it is a living wage, although just barely. The movement doesn’t have to settle for less than $15, now.
– See more at: http://workerscompass.org/dont-settle-for-less-15-now/#sthash.5msJKGA8.dpuf

Activist Show Path to Increasing Minimum Wage; City Council Stands Still

Just how unpalatable the Portland City Council finds 15 Now PDX, the activist group working to raise Portland’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, was made known about a half hour prior to the council session on June 11. One City Hall official approached about 20 of the group’s members who were rallying outside the building just prior to the 9:30 meeting and informed them that “people in red shirts have to sit upstairs.” When one of those persons in a red shirt told the official that he did not appreciate being told his constitutional rights did not matter, the official quickly backed off.  A few minutes later, 20 seats on the floor of the City Council chamber were occupied by people wearing red shirts and holding 15 Now PDX signs.

counciltest2
Photo Credit: Pete Shaw

Justin Norton-Kertson, co-founder of 15 Now PDX, presented the council with 1,000 signatures of Portland citizens who support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. During his testimony, Norton-Kertson noted the escalating cost of living in Portland–rents and groceries up 4.5% and 3.5% respectively last year, with that rent increase following a 4.9% surge from 2011 to 2012–that has made living in the city difficult for many of its wage earners.

Oregon’s minimum wage currently stands at $9.10 an hour. While it is one of the highest in the country, it clearly is not enough to sustain a minimum wage worker supporting her family while living in Portland. Norton-Kertson cited a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition that determined a single mother earning the minimum wage in Portland would have to work 78 hours per week to afford a two bedroom apartment to adequately house her and her children. In order to afford that apartment on one 40 hour per week job, she would need to draw $17.73 an hour.

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Did Portland Business Journal Alter Its $15 Minimum Wage Poll Results?

Last week, following the news of Seattle’s $15 minimum wage victory the conservative, corporate-friendly online publication, Portland Business Journal (PBJ), began running a poll which asked whether Portland should follow Seattle’s $15 minimum wage lead. Then on the morning of June 10 the poll was altered in a number of ways. The question asked in the poll changed, and is appears that the results of the poll were altered as well. 

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 11.27.16 AMWhen the poll was first published it asked if Portland should follow Seattle’s lead and adopt a $15 minimum wage.

There were two answers to chose from: 1) Yes the current $9.10 minimum wage is too low, and 2) No it will be too big a burden for business. However, on June 10 a new article was written and added to this poll that changed the question being asked. The article explained that they had changed the question of the poll to ask if Oregon, rather than just Portland, should follow Seattle’s lead. Their reasoning is that they suddenly learned about the state’s minimum wage preemption law, and so since Portland can’t raise the minimum wage (which is not entirely true at all), PBJ was changing the question to include the whole state.

The problem with this is that by changing the question of the poll after almost a week of responses, they are skewing the poll. Over 600 people voted in the poll before the question was altered. Those people thought they were voting in a poll about Portland specifically, not about Oregon in general. To alter the question in the middle of a poll like that, and then encourage people  to continue voting gives us a poll with results that are at best extremely questionable. This is an extremely unethical surprise from a publication trying to pass itself off as professional journalism.

What is even worse and possibly more unethical is that it appears the results of the poll itself were changed at the same time that the question was altered. By June 8 with close to 600 votes, the yes votes led the poll 54-44% with 2% voting “other.” By the next day, June 9, the vote total had reached over 600, and the no’s had gained a bit ground,  but yes still led by 8%. We don’t have screenshots to prove that. But we don’t need them to show that the poll was altered. We do have a screen shot from June 7, when there 533 votes and the yes votes were leading 52-48%, and we have a screen shot from the morning of June 10 when the poll question and results were altered. These two screen shots are more than enough to show without doubt that the results were in some way changed, and that the new result of the 80% of respondents being against raising the minimum wage to $15 is not even mathematically possible.

bizjournpollIn this first screen shot right above, taken on June 7, you can see that the yes votes were leading the poll by 52-48%. In the next screen shot shown below, you see a close up of the vote total, which stood at 533 votes.

bizjournpollcloseup

 

Next we’ll show you the screen shot from the morning of June 10. You can see that there are now 626 votes, and the no votes are way in the lead at 83-14%. How is it possible that with less than 100 votes added between the times of the two screen shots, that the results could shift so dramatically? With just a bit of simple math we’ll see that it is actually impossible.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 1.58.51 PM

 

In the first screen shot the no’s have 48% of 533 votes, which is a total of 255.48 votes (.48 x 533 = 255.48). So we’ll be nice and round up, and say that there were 256 no votes.

In the second screen shot on June 10, with 93 total votes having been added, the no’s are shown to have 83% of 626 total votes. That means that apparently “no” had a total of 520 votes. (.83 x 626 = 519.58 rounded up to 520). The no answer had 256 votes. Then with only 93 total votes had been added to the poll, the no votes somehow magically gained 264 votes (520 no votes in screen shot 2 minus 256 no votes in screen shot 1 = 264 new no votes). That means that somehow the no votes gained almost 3 times more votes than the number of total new votes that had actually been cast. For every vote shown to be cast in the poll, the no answer somehow magically gained three votes. It isn’t possible.

The Portland Business Journal needs to explain this discrepancy, and it needs to provide evidence for it’s explanation. Otherwise there are very few conclusions from which to draw about the ethics and journalistic credentials of the publication because as it stands, it very much looks like someone at PBJ altered the results because they didn’t like that the majority of respondents were voting yes for a $15 minimum wage.

Written by Justin Norton-Kertson, 15 Now PDX cofounder and steering committee member.

15 Now PDX Delivers 1,000 signatures to Portland City Council

As community members and supporters  of a $15 minimum wage filed into Portland City Hall this morning, security tried to inform them that they were to sit up in the balcony even though there was plenty of room on the main floor. After being reminded that making such a demand was a clear violation of constitutionally protected free speech, the security guard quickly stepped aside and let people into the main room of the council chamber.

At today’s city council meeting, 15 Now PDX organizer Justin Norton-Kertson gave public testimony on the need for a $15/hr minimum wage in the city of Portland. During his testimony, he described the rapidly rising cost of living in Portland, costs that are increasing at more than twice the national rate of inflation. A recent study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition was cited, which found that a single mother in Portland has to work 78 hours per week at the current minimum wage  in order to attain even the most basic level economic security that would allow her to provide adequate housing for her and her children.

He pointed out that a 40 hour per week job at a $15 minimum wage would be just enough to give those families that basic level of economic security that they need.

Photo Credit: Hyung Kyu Nam
Photo Credit: Hyung Kyu Nam

Norton-Kertson also encouraged the council members to publicly endorse and actively work for a $15 minimum wage in Portland by raising the minimum wage for all city workers and city contractor employees, and by implementing a Living Wage Tax. The tax, which was proposed by Nicholas Caleb during his recent campaign for city council, would fine large corporations and other businesses in Portland that do not pay their employees a $15 minimum wage. The money collected would then be used to help subsidize wage increases for low wage workers in Portland.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz replied that she has researched the idea of raising the minimum wage for the 2,000 city workers who make less than $15/hr within her Bureau of Parks and Recreation. However, she said it would cost the city $2.7 million, and suggested that the price tag was too high when that money could be used for street maintenance, or to provide a few dozen more full time jobs with benefits within the department.

Mayor Charlie Hales also replied, stating that  “We don’t like preemptions in general and we don’t like this one either.” He also clearly noted, one could even say pledged that getting the state’s minimum wage preemption law repealed is going to be on the city’s legislative agenda for this coming year’s state legislative session. 

Norton-Kertson thanked the council for taking up the issue of the preemption law at the state level, and told the council that 15 Now PDX looks forward to continuing the conversation with them about raising the minimum wage in Portland to $15. He offered the council the suggestion that if they are able to so easily cut through all the red tape and raise the tax money necessary to get all the city’s new development projects underway, that surely they could cut through similar red tape to ensure that everyone in Portland who works makes a $15/hr living wage. He closed out his testimony by asking if anyone on the council was ready to endorse $15 Now for Portland. None of the council members took up the invitation.

15 Now PDX meets with Commissioner Dan Saltzman tomorrow afternoon to further discuss a $15 minimum wage for Portland and action to repeal the state’s minimum wage preemption law.

But we can not rely on politicians to do the work for us. If we do we are likely to get a $15 that is full of corporate loopholes. We need to continue building the grassroots, working class power and strength that can fight the money and propaganda of big business and win a strong $15 for our city! Can you volunteer or make a contribution to 15 Now PDX to help us build that movement?

Written by Justin Norton-Kertson, 15 Now PDX cofounder and steering committee member.