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Oregon Governor’s Minimum Wage Plan Isn’t Good Enough

Governor Kate Brown has released the details of her proposal for increasing Oregon’s minimum wage. According to an article just published by the Oregonian, “Brown’s plan would set two rates for Oregon. One would cover the Portland metro area, as defined by the region’s urban growth boundary, and top out at $15.52 an hour. The other would set a $13.50 minimum for the rest of the state.”

$15.52 per hour for the Portland metro region sounds really great. Hey, it’s even higher than we’ve been demanding! Unfortunately, the region’s minimum wage would not reach that level until January of 2022, a six year phase in. That is entirely too long. 3 years longer than what is proposed in IP 41, the ballot initiative being run by the Oregonians for 15 coalition. The cost of living in the Portland area has, in fact, already surpassed the $15 minimum wage level. Study after study shows this to be the case. $15.52 in six years is, to be perfectly frank, not fast enough and not good enough.

$13.50 for rural Oregon in six years is not fast enough, it’s not good enough. The Alliance for a Just Society already places the self-sufficiency wage for the entire state, including rural Oregon, at $15.99 per hour. According to a 2014 Oregon Department of Human Services study conducted by Oregon State University, the hourly wage needed for a single parent with one child to be able to afford fair market rate, small home-based childcare without being cost burdened is $15 per hour or more in all but four of Oregon’s counties.

Furthermore, the minimum wage preemption law that prevents cities and counties from raising their own minimum wage needs to be repealed. The law is undemocratic. It is a tool of right wing corporate lobby powerhouses like ALEC whose mission is to limit and  repeal the rights and the gains that have been won by working people around the nation.

So while we applaud Governor Brown for recognizing that the Portland area needs at least $15, we are compelled to state that this plan is not good enough. It phases in too slowly, and it doesn’t create a statewide minimum wage that ensures working families can be self-sufficient.

IP 41 increases the minimum wage to $15 across the state over a 3 year phase in, by 2019. The initiative recognizes that $15 is also needed outside of the Portland metro area, and it gets us there on much more reasonable timeline.

The Oregon Center for Public Policy has shown that Oregon has had minimum wage increases of this size and speed in the past. Twice actually. Once during the late 80s and early 90s when the minimum wage increased by 42% over two years, and once during the 1970s when the state minimum wage increased by 80% over a four year phase in. Both of these were equivalent in size IP 41’s 60% increase over 3 years, with the wage increasing an average of about 20% per year in all three cases. After both large increases during the mid 70’s and the late 80’s, Oregon’s economy and small businesses grew and thrived.



PSU Million Student March Highlights Poverty Wages Earned by Campus Workers

by Mark Vorpahl

Students in 100 cities, including Portland, walked out of class and into the streets today as part of the Million Student March. This show of united strength aimed to make their needs heard by a political establishment and a system of corporate higher education that plunges students into a bleak future of massive debt.


Locally students and their allies gathered on the campus of Portland State University where they listened to the stories and struggles of fellow students, former students who are still in debt and working low-wage jobs despite having degrees, and campus workers earning poverty wages. From there they marched through the streets of downtown to the office of PSU President, Wim Wiewel, and to City Hall to make their demands heard.

1) Tuition-free public college

Until the 1970s and 1980s tuition was free at many public universities. Today, with massive cuts to public funding for education as well as privatization, tuitions are dramatically skyrocketing. This increasingly freezes out all but the most privileged from the degrees they will need for a good future, and saddles them with an un-payable debt. Higher education is a necessity in today’s world. Therefore, it should be viewed as a right and tuition-free public college is the only way to guarantee that this right is available for everyone.

2) Cancellation of all student debt

The total student loan debt is now more than $1.2 trillion, averaging $35,000 per borrower. Not even credit card debt reaches this staggering level. Such a burden not only hurts individual students, it hurts all of our communities because a community can’t prosper unless its members—who worked hard to get a higher education—aren’t weighed down with unfair debt with little available other than poverty wage jobs.

Photo by Malcolm Chaddock
Photo by Malcolm Chaddock

The only ones benefitting from this system of debt are the corporations and 1% who are being let off the hook from paying their fair share towards a public education system that trains their future workers. They should be made to pay and student debt should be eliminated to free up the money currently going to student loan payments to be spent in the economy.

3) A $15 minimum wage for all campus workers

No one who works should live in poverty. The practice of paying poverty wages to those whose labor keeps colleges running is especially at odds with these colleges’ purpose of providing the tools needed to lift up the quality of living for future generations. A $15 minimum wage for campus workers would not only help lift many thousands out of poverty, it would improve their morale, reduce workplace turn over, and increase workers’ motivation without the stressful distractions of needing to make ends meet on too few resources.


Because these demands address immediate needs that unite students and workers and impact all of our communities, they have immense potential in finding an active echo in the broad public.

Currently these demands are not considered “realistic” by corporate politicians, including those who mouth support for a $15 minimum wage while doing nothing. The only way to make them act is to build a unified social movement powerful enough to make it unrealistic for these so-called leaders to ignore us without serious consequences. When students and workers come together in massive numbers they have the independent power to define what is politically realistic as opposed to the politicians with their cozy and profitable relations with big business.

The Million Student March could prove to be an historic bench mark for the growth of such a movement. But for that movement to become a reality we have to keep working, keep orgnanizing, and keep building.


Oregon Economists Support $15 Minimum Wage

No one who works should live in poverty, and we know that anything less than $15 isn’t enough for working people in Oregon to afford the basic necessities without having to rely on public assistance. This is why we have been fighting for $15 here in Portland, and in the State of Oregon for the last year and half.

The movement for $15 has gone from fast food workers, to cities, to the state level, and is now raging all across the country. Recently, over 200 economists signed onto a letter of support for a federal $15 minimum wage, and 10 of those economists live and work right here in the State of Oregon. Today three of those economists – Drs. Mary King, Marty Hart-Landsberg, and Robin Hahnel – held a press conference at Portland State University to talk about why they support $15 not only nationally, but also as the statewide minimum wage here in Oregon.

Click Here is read Dr. Mary King’s full statement.

Click Here to listen to the full press conference on KBOO’s podcast.