SALEM — A new coalition, backed by Oregon’s largest labor federation, will press lawmakers next year to raise the state minimum wage to $13.50 per hour – or it will press ahead with its own ballot measure.
“The bottom line is that something is going to happen in 2016,” said Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, in a conference call to reporters Wednesday.
The Raise the Wage coalition is taking a different political tack than another group, 15 Now Oregon, which is nearing the start of gathering petition signatures to qualify its own $15 statewide minimum wage for the 2016 ballot.
Chamberlain said “the first preference” of the Raise the Wage coalition is to give one more chance to lawmakers, who heard several bills to increase the minimum wage but did not advance any of them in their 2015 session.
Although lawmakers passed other bills – a requirement for paid sick leave, a state-sponsored plan for retirement savings, a ban on criminal-history inquiries on initial job applications – Chamberlain described inaction on the minimum wage “the one glaring exception.”
Lawmakers will meet for a 35-day session starting in February.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has laid out a plan to raise the minimum to $13 in stages by 2018 and to allow cities and counties to raise it more. Although it did not advance past the House Rules Committee, Kotek said she plans to press ahead in 2016.
Unlike the pending ballot measure for a $15 minimum, the proposal advocated by the Raise the Wage coalition also would allow cities and counties to set higher levels beyond $13.50.
The coalition released a report, prepared by the union-funded Our Oregon, that said a $13.50 minimum wage would be adequate in most rural counties to support a single adult with a preschool-age child. But in the three metropolitan Portland counties, the report said that level would have to be around $22 per hour.
To Cynthia Munoz of Portland, who earns less than $13 per hour as an elementary school aide in Woodburn, a raise would allow her to better support herself and her 10-year-old son.
“It’s not about a vacation, and it’s not about a night on the town,” Munoz said. “I am talking about earning enough money at one job to pay my bills and make sure my son has the things he needs.”
Opposition is expected from business groups, which note that Oregon’s current minimum at $9.25 is the nation’s second highest statewide rate behind Washington’s $9.47.
They also oppose lifting the ban on independent action by local governments. D.J. Vogt, speaking for the Oregon Business Association, said that proposal is a “nonstarter.”
But Deborah Field, who sits on the board of the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, said an increase in the minimum wage is good for business.
“My employees are my most important asset, and it makes good business sense to take care of them,” said Field, co-owner of Paperjam Press in Northeast Portland. “Raising the minimum wage is a smart business decision.”
Although the 15 Now Oregon group and the Raise the Wage coalition differ in their priorities, there is crossover support. Two of the chief petitioners for the $15 minimum wage are from the Oregon farmworkers union known as PCUN and Jobs with Justice — both organizations represented in the Raise the Wage coalition.
The 15 Now Oregon group has filed 1,808 validated signatures, more than the 1,000 required to obtain an official summary from the attorney general known as a ballot title. Once a ballot title is certified — it can be challenged in the Supreme Court — sponsors can collect the rest of the 88,184 signatures required to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot.
Andrea Miller, executive director of Causa, Oregon’s immigrant-rights group, said the Raise the Wage coalition will have to set in motion the process for its own ballot measure this fall, ahead of the 2016 session.
Unlike the 2015 session, when individual organizations had multiple priorities, Miller said raising the minimum wage will be a focal point in 2016.
“Our job as a coalition is to mobilize constituents and community members across the state to tell their legislators this needs to be at the top of their ticket in 2016,” she said.
The first round of community canvasses will take place Saturday. In Portland, they will start at 10 a.m. at the AFL-CIO office, 3645 SE 32nd Ave.