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  • 23 Oct 2014

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Activists want city to boost minimum wage for its employees

Portland activists asked city commissioners Wednesday to take a stand on raising Oregon’s minimum wage — and to boost the wages of city employees and those on contract with the city to at least $15 an hour.

Justin Norton-Kertson, cofounder of the new group 15 Now PDX, presented 1,000 petition signatures to the Portland City Council.

“This is an increasingly expensive city in which to live,” Norton-Kertson said in public comments at the beginning of Wednesday’s council meeting. “The cost of rent here is rising at more than twice the national rate of inflation. Rents increased by 4.9 percent from 2011 to 2012.”

A single woman trying to support a family on Oregon’s $9.10 minimum wage would need to work a 78-hour week to afford a basic two-bedroom apartment, Norton-Kertson said.

City councilors have pledged to ask the Oregon Legislature to lift a state ban on city-level minimum wage ordinances. Activists want city commissioners to go beyond that promise, by endorsing an amount they’d like to see the minimum wage raised to, and by paying at least $15 an hour within the sphere the city controls.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz responded that she researched the impact of a $15 minimum wage on the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation, which she oversees, and found more than 2,000 bureau employees earn less than $15 an hour. Boosting them all up to $15 an hour would cost $2.7 million a year, Fritz said.

“It certainly is a great goal,” Fritz said of 15 Now PDX’s proposal. However, she said the city lacks the funds to do it now, and there are other alternatives worth considering with that money. That $2.7 million, for example, could raise some 40 to 50 seasonal parks bureau employees to fulltime jobs with benefits, Fritz said.

While Oregon has the nation’s second-highest minimum wage, plus an automatic inflation requirement that raises the wage each year, there is growing pressure around the country to raise the minimum wage to a level that could support a family. Seattle’s recent move to a $15 minimum wage has emboldened supporters here, but there is a “preemption” in Oregon law that bars cities and counties from going beyond the state minimum wage.

Mayor Charlie Hales said the city lobbyist will ask the 2015 Oregon Legislature to lift that preemption. “We don’t like preemptions in general and we don’t like this one either,” Hales said.

The mayor acknowledged there are other steps the city could take, as suggested by 15 Now PDX. “We’re aren’t preempted from doing anything at all,” Hales said.

Steve Law can reached at 503-546-5139 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Twitter: @SteveLawTrib