Unions join rally for $15 minimum wage

15 Now rally inSalemSALEM — Union members were among the several hundred workers rallying at the State Capitol Jan. 24 for a $15 state minimum wage. The event was organized by 15 Now Oregon, but it had strong backing from more than a dozen unions.

The Oregon AFL-CIO and most labor unions in the state have endorsed the push to make Oregon the first state to enact a $15 minimum wage.

Democrats who control the Oregon Legislature (and the governor’s office) will consider several bills that would gradually raise the minimum wage, which currently is $9.25 an hour. One bill would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018. Another bill would raise it to $12.20 by 2017, then adjust it for inflation after that. Also on the docket is a bill to repeal the preemption law that prevents cities and counties in Oregon from raising the minimum wage locally.

The Legislature convened Feb. 2 and will be in session for  160 days.

“Almost half a million Oregonians work for $12 an hour or less,” Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain told the Salem crowd. “In other words, 1-in-4 Oregon workers are working as hard as they can and still live in poverty. That is shameful.”

The state labor federation says that large low-wage employers aren’t paying their fair share and, as a result, taxpayers are picking up the tab. Each year, Chamberlain said Oregonians spend $1.7 billion in taxes to subsidize low-income wages along with irregular work schedules and inadequate benefits. Meanwhile, the companies employing low-wage workers (companies like Walmart, and McDonalds) are bringing in record profits.

“This is wrong. Corporate greed will destroy our state, our nation, our communities, and our families,” Chamberlain said. “It is time to hold them accountable. It is time for the Oregon Legislature to pass a minimum wage that lifts workers out of poverty, not one that drives them into it.”

Tim Stoelb, president of the Oregon School Employees Association, called on the Legislature to “outlaw poverty” by passing a $15 per hour minimum wage. “There are 200,000 reasons — that’s the number of Oregon children who live in households below the federal poverty line,” Stoelb said.

After rallying on the steps of the State Capitol, supporters marched through the streets of Salem to share their message.

Some of the labor organizations at the event were: Oregon School Employees Association; American Federation of Teachers; Portland Association of Teachers; Laborers Local 483; Oregon Education Association; Service Employees Locals 49 and 503; AFSCME Locals 88 and 328; the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals Local 5017; Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757; IBEW Local 48; Communications Workers Local 7901; Musicians Local 99; International Longshore and Warehouse Union; Teamsters; and the Northwest Oregon, and Marion, Polk, Yamhill labor councils.

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