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Labor commissioner completes new minimum wage rules

New fixes will be explained to employers in a series of statewide seminars with the labor bureau.

PAMPLIN MEDIA: PARIS ACHEN - Governor Kate Brown signing the minimum wage legislation in February.

Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries finalized new minimum wage rules Wednesday, requiring employers to pay a regional rate based on where the employee works more than 50 percent of the time.

The new rules are a compromise between proposed rules favored by labor groups and requests by business groups to base the rate on where the employer is located.

“I appreciate that both industry associations and minimum wage advocates stepped up to advise our agency’s rulemaking process,” said Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian in a statement. “As Oregon raises its minimum wage for more than a hundred thousand workers next month, we hope that the rules will provide fairness to workers and employers alike.”

The Legislature in February boosted minimum wage rates and set a schedule for increases with three different regional rates, based in part on the area’s cost of living and income levels. Proposed rules that defined location of itinerant employees required employers to pay different rates if an employee worked in a different region for four hours or more.

Business groups opposed the rules because they said it required onerous recordkeeping.

Under the final rules, no additional recordkeeping is required for most employers, said Charlie Burr, labor bureau spokesman. When an employee works in multiple regions the majority of the time, the employer may choose whether to pay the employee the highest rate or to track the employee's hours by location and pay them different rates according to where they worked.

Delivery workers who report to and from the same location will be paid the rate of the region where they report.

Betsy Earls, vice president and counsel of Associated Oregon Industries, said the final rules are an improvement from what was originally proposed, but the guidelines still have shortcomings.

"Those are huge strides, so much better," Earls said.

Earls argued that lawmakers intended employer location to mean the location where the employee reports to work, rather than different pay based on where employees go during the day.

She said exempting delivery workers and not other workers that work in multiple locations from the rules doesn't make sense.

"There is nothing discernible about delivery workers except that they drop things off," Earls said. "Those companies have to track hour by hour. That is pretty tough, and I don’t think the distinction is defensible. What if they're picking things up instead of dropping things off?"

Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain said the rules don't go far enough to protect workers.

“The Oregon AFL-CIO is pleased that the minimum wage rules presented by BOLI recognize that employees should generally be paid a wage according to the region in which work is being performed," Chamberlain said in a statement. "However, we believe the rules could be both stronger and more protective for working people. Under the new rules, an employee must work more than 50 percent of their time during a pay period in a different region before a different wage is required; a pay period can be an entire month, which means some workers could spend two weeks in a higher wage region without the higher wage being required."

The labor bureau will hold a series of seminars to help employers comply with the new rules.

The first-of-its-kind law takes effect July 1, bumping up the state’s minimum wage from $9.25 to $9.75 in most parts of the state and to $9.50 in rural counties.

In 2017, wage increases will further diverge according to region.

The minimum gradually climbs to $14.75 in 2022 in the Portland urban growth boundary, which includes parts of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. It will rise to $13.50 in Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Deschutes, Hood River, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, Tillamook, Wasco and Yamhill counties, and parts of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties outside Portland’s urban growth boundary.

In rural areas, the wage increases to $12.50. Those areas include Malheur, Lake, Harney, Wheeler, Sherman, Gilliam, Wallowa, Grant, Jefferson, Baker, Union, Crook, Klamath, Douglas, Coos, Curry, Umatilla and Morrow counties.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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