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Group takes minimum wage fight to the ballot

Government — Advocates file paperwork to put a measure on the November 2016 ballot


SALEM — Disappointed with legislative inaction, labor and other advocates took the first step last week toward a 2016 ballot measure proposing a $15 statewide minimum wage by 2019.

Oregon’s statewide minimum is $9.25 per hour, second only to Washington’s $9.47 among the states. But several cities — Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles — are gradually raising their minimums to $15.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - Advocacy groups, primarily in Portland, have begun organizing to place on the November 2016 ballot a measure that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Advocates filed preliminary paperwork for the measure several weeks ago, but on June 30, they filed with state elections officials the 2,000 signatures that will trigger a ballot title from the attorney general. The title is an official summary required before advocates can collect the 88,184 signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot.

Those petition signatures are due in about a year.

If voters approve it, Oregon’s minimum wage would go to $11.50 in 2017, $13.25 in 2018 and $15 in 2019. Afterward, annual increases would be linked to the Consumer Price Index, as has been the practice since voters approved it in 2002.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) told reporters that lawmakers are unlikely to pass a minimum-wage increase this session. Lawmakers heard several bills on April 13.

Kotek had offered a compromise plan to raise it in stages to $13 by 2018, coupled with a provision to let cities and counties set it even higher. The House Rules Committee conducted two hearings but has not advanced it.

“Democrats said if we gave them a majority in the Legislature, they would take bold action to ensure that every Oregonian had the opportunity to succeed,” said Kristi Wright, statewide organizing director for 15 Now Oregon. “Pressure from big business and their allies who profit from poverty wages, and inaction from Democratic Party leaders, killed the bill. Democratic leaders have neglected their promise to the working people of this state. But even though they killed the bill, they cannot kill this movement.”

Diana Pei Wu, executive director of Portland Jobs with Justice, said her coalition is working with employers to raise the minimum pay of as many as 30,000 of the estimated 120,000 metro-area workers who make less than $15 per hour.

Fast-food restaurant workers spearheaded the national movement for a $15 minimum a few years ago.

“Everyone thought $15 was pie in the sky; no one thought we would get to $15,” Wu said. “But over the past two and a half years, tens of thousands of workers and organizations and unions all over the United States have made this a reality. It’s the most reasonable minimum wage we expect.”

Oregon is among 20 states, including four via the ballot box, that have raised their minimum wage in the past year. Oregon did so through an automatic linkage with inflation.

But no state has increased the minimum wage to $15, either through legislative action or popular vote — and a ballot measure is likely to attract millions of dollars into an opposition campaign.

“We see our power coming from the people and the broad support this issue has around the state,” Wright said.

Several unions have lent their support to the measure, even though it does not exclude collective bargaining agreements. Among the union speakers were Tim Stoelb, president of the Oregon School Employees Association, and Ramon Ramirez, president of the Oregon farmworkers union PCUN.

“We are the ones who put food on your table,” said Ramirez, who is a chief petitioner of the measure. “I am here to say: No exclusions. Every worker in Oregon needs to make at least the minimum wage. We are going to fight to the end to make sure that happens.”

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