The discussion on raising Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 an hour has continued for months. Now, the state’s legislature is considering action.
On Monday, the Oregon House and Senate held a public hearing to discuss a variety of bills that would raise Oregon’s minimum wage. Each bill’s specifics vary but the main proposal is that the minimum wage would rise, in increments, to $15 by 2018.
For over four hours, members of the House and Senate heard testimonies from about 100 people on the topic.
Arguments for and against the proposal followed the typical pattern.
Proponents argue the current minimum wage is not enough as families still live below the poverty line. In addition, proponents argue that a higher minimum wage would increase spending, boosting the local economy.
Opponents are also concerned about the local economy and that businesses would have to cut jobs or raise prices. They also contend that a mandated minimum wage would be unfair for skilled workers who have earned higher wages.
A work session has been scheduled for April 20. The leaders in each legislative body have opposing views.
To stand a chance against business groups who have urged lawmakers not to consider the wage increase, a ballot measure would need money and volunteer power from labor groups.
Russell Sanders, spokesman for the Oregon AFL-CIO, has yet to take a position on the ballot measure.
“We definitely understand the frustration in where they’re coming from with the ballot measure,” Sanders said. “We’re not saying we support it or we don’t support it today. We’re going to see how things are playing out in the Legislature.”
Many Oregonians support the income gain as it would help them rise above poverty levels. Critics worry employers will have to fire workers to make up for the higher wage.
Bill Perry, lobbyist for the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association (one of the most vocal opponents of a wage increase) said the attempt to seek a ballot shows that advocates are unwilling to compromise.
“The fundamental problem with a lot of the interest groups that operate in Oregon is they tend to not want to compromise,” Perry said. “So if you don’t want to compromise, you go to the local level or to the ballot measure. If they want to do that, because they don’t want to compromise, that’s their prerogative. But we will organize to try to bring it to an actual discussion.”