Oregon activists pushing a measure to raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour admitted defeat Monday when the state decided to set a $13.50 wage floor.
Labor unions and advocates have worked to make the $15 minimum wage an important national issue, while the Oregonians for 15 coalition has been at the forefront of the push within the the state. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, however, signed a bill into law Mar. 2 that will phase in an increase of only $13.50 an hour by 2022 — promoting the coalition to express disappointment and admit defeat. To get the bill passed, democrats in the legislature also ignored a decades old practice by bypassing the Ways and Means Committee.
“It’s no secret that the minimum wage bill passed by the Oregon state legislature is too low and too slow,” the coalition said in a statement. “Nevertheless, due to a significant decline in organizational and voter support since the passage of this bill, the Oregonians for 15 coalition has regretfully suspended signature gathering and will withdraw its $15 statewide ballot initiative.”
Despite not reaching the $15 an hour mark, the measure puts Oregon on track to having the highest state minimum wage in the country. It will also bring the Portland-area minimum wage to $15.52. Nevertheless, the coalition claims the measure won’t make working families self-sufficient and will fail to bring low-wage workers out of poverty.
“Portland and 24 other surrounding cities are will now have a $15 minimum wage with a phase in that,” the statement continued. “This means that hundreds of thousands of working people in 25 cities are getting a raise to $15. In terms of the sheer number of cities affected, there is no doubt this is the largest step toward $15 so far anywhere in the nation.”
At the moment, the $15 minimum wage has only been passed on the city level, starting with Seattle in June of 2014. New York, New Jersey and California are among a handful of states vying to be the first to enact the policy. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put the policy at the forefront of his agenda, but his biggest obstacle is the Republican majority in the state Senate.
“We did not win exactly what we set out to achieve, a living wage in Oregon, and that is disappointing to say the least,” the statement concluded. “But what we did achieve is truly historic in scope and significance. It will make a real difference in the lives of over half a million working Oregonians and their families, and in the national movement for a $15 minimum wage.”
President Barack Obama even commended Brown for signing the minimum wage bill into law. The measure was also followed by controversy with how lawmakers forced it through. Brown unveiled the plan Jan. 14, a week after accepting a $100,000 contribution from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
AFSCME has been an adamant supporter of increasing the minimum wage across the country, and also endorses the Raise the Wage Oregon campaign, which advocates for a $13.50 minimum wage.
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