Oregon group offers $13.50 minimum wage proposal, competing with separate $15 campaign

Associated Press

A group of labor unions and liberal activist groups said Wednesday it will push to raise Oregon's minimum wage to $13.50, opening a divide with an existing group that's been pushing for a $15 wage floor.

The new Raise the Wage Coalition, backed by some of Oregon's most influential and well-financed interest groups, says it will also seek to give cities the right to set their own minimum wage if they believe $13.50 is too low.

Continue Reading Below

Organizers say their primary goal is to persuade state lawmakers to adopt their plan in next year's legislative session. But they say they'll begin collecting signatures for a ballot measure in case lawmakers don't sign off.

"The bottom line is, something is going to happen in 2016," Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, said in a conference call with reporters. "We want it to be in the Legislature. If not, we'll file our own ballot measure."

The effort is competing with a separate group, 15 Now, which advocates a $15 statewide minimum wage, without an option for cities to set their own. Organizers of that effort issued a statement pledging to "stand strong for $15."

State elections officials this month certified that the group advocating for $15 submitted 1,808 valid signatures, more than enough to clear the first hurdle for placing an initiative on the ballot. Ultimately, they'll need 88,184.

"$15 is not an arbitrary number," the statement said. "Numerous studies all show that $15 is the baseline for economic security and self-sufficiency for working people and their families here in Oregon."

The split leaves the potential for competing initiatives to qualify for next year's ballot.

Advocates of the $13.50 minimum wage say their research shows that much income would be sufficient in much of rural Oregon, and the freedom to set a higher minimum wage would allow higher-cost cities like Portland and Eugene to do so.

"People feel mixed about what the actual minimum wage should be," said Andrea Miller, director of Causa, an immigrant-rights group that is part of the coalition seeking $13.50. "We think that reflects the reality that needs and cost of living are different in different parts of the state."

Oregon's $9.25 minimum wage is the second highest in the nation. Business interests oppose raising it, saying a hike would be hard on small business owners. They also oppose lifting the so-called statewide pre-emption, which requires a uniform wage floor across the state, citing the complexity of complying with a patchwork of varying wage standards.