The $15 minimum wage fight is going to Salem, but it might not be much of a scuffle.
Portland Jobs with Justice and 15 Now Portland, two groups that have been fighting for an increase to Oregon's $9.10 minimum wage since earlier this year, just announced they've found a voice in State Sen. Chip Shields (D-Portland), who'll introduce one piece of legislation that would create a statewide minimum of $15 an hour, and another that would let cities set their own minimum wages.
As the Mercury explored earlier this year, there is currently a pre-emption—pushed successfully by the restaurant industry—against cities setting their own minimum wage, a factor that makes Portland's discussion more difficult than a successful push in Seattle.
Shields isn't the only legislator hopping on board. Between 9 and 13 of his fellow Democrats have signed onto each bill, a leftist coalition that wouldn't necessarily have to look across the aisle for majority support, thanks to Democratic gains in Salem in November's election. Still $15 wage supporters are being realistic.
15 Now Portland advocate Justin Norton-Kertson says the group believes at least one of the bills—that creating a statewide $15 wage—will make it into committee. He's less confident it will make it out.
"We doubt that it will get enough traction to actually pass," Norton-Kertson tells the Mercury.
That's according to plan, though. The group hopes merely to draw enough coverage and build enough awareness through discussions in Salem that it gains momentum for a 2016 ballot measure, which 15 Now Portland sees as the final goal.
News of the legislation is just the latest in a flurry of activity around the minimum wage issue. Earlier this month, Multnomah County reached a deal with its main employee union to give unionized employees a $15 minimum by 2016. And County Chair Deborah Kafoury went further, extending a similar increase to hundreds of seasonal and on-call employees. The move, Kafoury said, made Multnomah County the largest public employer in Oregon to pay employees at least $15 (only interns don't hit that mark).
Portland city officials have also signaled a wage increase is one of their priorities in the upcoming legislative session, though the city hasn't set a target.
Update, 11:56 pm: Shields' bills won't remotely be the only minimum wage proposals Oregon lawmakers consider next year.
Oregon's Labor Commissioner, Brad Avakian, has been touting a higher statewide minimum wage for months. Those efforts have contributed to what Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) spokesman Charlie Burr says will be two bills in the upcoming session, tied to more modest increases.
According to Burr, leadership in both the house and senate will introduce legislation that brings Oregon's minimum wage up to $12.20 over the course of two years. The wage progression would look like this:
•January 1, 2015: Wage would rise to $9.25, as already scheduled (Oregon's minimum wage rises with inflation)
•January 1, 2016: Wage would rise to $10.97
•January 1, 2017: Wage would rise to $12.20
Burr says bills to enshrine those changes will be filed within the week. And Avakian's confident they'll have traction, he says.
"There’s a sense that there’s a window of opportunity here," Burr says. "We think there's a viable path because there's a broad coalition behind it."