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State's minimum wage won't go up in 2016

Portland Tribune
September 16, 2015By Peter Wong

Oregon’s minimum wage will remain at $9.25 per hour in 2016 without an automatic cost-of-living increase.

State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian says that despite higher costs of housing and child care, the overall Consumer Price Index for Portland rose only two-10ths of 1 percent for the year ending in August.

“That is not enough to trigger an increase,” says Charlie Burr, spokesman for the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Oregon voters tied increases in the state minimum wage to inflation in a 2002 ballot measure. The rate is second only to Washington’s $9.47 as the nation’s highest statewide minimum, although several cities — including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles — are phasing in increases to $15.

Avakian, in his announcement Wednesday, says it’s time for Oregon to raise the state minimum.

“A strong wage floor is an important foundation for family economic security,” said Avakian. “By passing a higher minimum wage, Oregon can help families struggling to make ends meet while boosting the purchasing power of hundreds of thousands of Oregonians around the state.”

Burr says that housing and child care are just two of the factors in the basket of goods and services that are in the Consumer Price Index.

“But anyone who has spent any time looking at housing and trying to get an apartment in the metro area knows that rents are increasing, the cost of child care is increasing, and the cost of living in general is going up,” he says. “They’re all reasons why we think it’s time for the Legislature to take this issue on when they get back to work in February.”

The Oregon Center for Public Policy says that a minimum that keeps up with inflation is necessary but insufficient.

“Oregon’s lowest-paid workers are long overdue for a big raise that helps the minimum wage catch up with the growth in worker productivity,” says Tyler Mac Innis, policy analyst with the center based in Silverton. “Lawmakers or voters need to act so that so that our lowest-paid workers can begin to share more of the economic gains they have helped produce.”

Despite advocacy by Avakian and others, Oregon lawmakers did not act on bills to increase the minimum during the 2015 session.

Two coalitions, whose members overlap, are urging an increase in stages.

Raise the Wage, led by labor unions, advocate action by lawmakers. But it also has said it is prepared to seek voter approval of a ballot measure to raise the minimum to $13.50 in the November 2016 general election.

“We can’t raise up Oregon when higher costs of living and low wages are dragging us down,” said Andrea Miller, executive director of Causa, Oregon’s immigrant rights group and one of the coalition members. “It’s time for our lawmakers to take action to raise the wage so working families can be economically secure and start to save for the future.”

The other group is 15 Now Oregon, which will launch its statewide signature-gathering efforts for a $15 minimum ballot measure on Sept. 26. It will require a total of 88,184 signatures, though 1,808 signatures previously gathered to obtain an official summary will count toward that total.

“We all know that prices have gone up here in Oregon. In fact even statistics show this is true,” says a statement the group posted on its website describing recent increases in rents and food.

“Don’t make the mistake of assuming that Portland is unique in our state when it comes to such price increases.”

Lawmakers most recently raised the state minimum on their own back in 1989. Voters raised it in a 1996 ballot measure, and then tied future growth to inflation in 2002.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has laid out a proposal for raising the minimum in stages to $13 over three years, with an option for local governments to raise it more. State law bars local governments from setting their own minimums, but Kotek says cities such as Portland have higher costs