In his March 26 article “$15 minimum wage bill dead in Oregon Senate,” Greg Stiles reports on what 15 Now Oregon has known all session. Since we first contacted Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, in December 2014, he has said he won’t allow SB 610 to come to the floor for a vote. As over half a million hardworking Oregonians struggle to get by on poverty wages, the fight for $15 will continue despite Courtney’s obstructionism.
Courtney says that raising the minimum wage to $15 over three years will harm our small-business economy. This fear is common throughout modern history, but it is not grounded in the facts. The Oregon Center for Public Policy reports that there is precedent for a wage increase of this size in Oregon, and that our state economy did well. That’s because when working families have more money to spend, they spend more money at local businesses.
15 Now Oregon had this bill drafted and submitted knowing that the chances of it passing through the Legislature were slim to none. We sought to inspire a serious conversation about a minimum wage high enough to get hardworking Oregonians out of poverty and off public assistance, and in that we succeeded. Our campaign for a $15 minimum wage has captured the public imagination, and started discussions at dinner tables from La Grande to Coos Bay.
We see this enthusiasm because working families have fallen behind as wages have failed to keep up with the cost of living. It is not because our economy is “slowly recovering,” as Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce CEO Brad Hicks claims: in fact, the Oregon Center for Public Policy says that our state economy is growing at three times the national rate. Business is better than ever, and it’s time for Oregonians to collect the living wage they have earned.
Hicks repeats the discredited claim that Seattle’s phased-in minimum wage increase is costing the city small businesses and jobs. In an article titled “Local facts no match for national fiction on $15 minimum wage issue,” the Seattle Times called this claim “bogus” and quoted the owners of the businesses in question, who denied that the minimum wage caused or was at all associated with the closures. Hicks’ statements may fit his ideology, but they are inconsistent with the evidence.
Democrats like Courtney act as if paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage are mutually exclusive propositions. This shows how out of touch they are with working families. In a state where half of new jobs pay less than a living wage, and where there are nine job-seekers for every available living-wage job, hard work is no longer enough to get ahead. Oregonians deserve paid sick leave and a living wage, because no one who works should live in poverty.
The fight for $15 is alive and stronger than ever. 15 Now Oregon is organizing communities in Medford, Portland, and elsewhere throughout the state. Hundreds will attend the hearing in Salem on April 13 and demand a floor vote on a $15 minimum wage. If Peter Courtney will not provide real leadership on this important issue, then 15 Now Oregon will take it to the ballot in 2016. SB 610 may be doomed, but the fight for $15 will continue until we win.
Kristi Wright of Ashland is Southern Oregon regional organizer for 15 Now Oregon.