Oregon Senate President says he won’t allow vote on minimum wage increase

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) told a group of Southern Oregon business leaders March 26 that he won’t allow a vote on increasing the minimum wage.

The Oregon AFL-CIO — the state’s labor federation — is leading a campaign to raise the minimum wage this year, and the issue is at the top of a five-point “fair shot” agenda being pushed by a coalition of labor, civil rights and community groups.

I’m going to do the sick-leave thing, but I’m not going to do minimum wage.” — Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem)

Courtney is the state senator for District 11, representing Woodburn, Gervais, and part of Salem. Running for re-election last year, he told the Oregon AFL-CIO he was in favor of raising the minimum wage, and got its endorsement.

But on March 26, 40 to 50 members of the Klamath Falls, Grants Pass, and Medford chambers of commerce were at the state capitol for a five-hour meeting with House and Senate leaders. Courtney told them a minimum wage bill won’t make it to the Senate floor, according to a report in the Medford Mail Tribune.

“I’m not going to do minimum wage this session,” Courtney reportedly said. “I’m a Democrat and that has not endeared me to my family … I’m going to do the sick-leave thing, but I’m not going to do minimum wage … That’s a tough statement to make, but I made it here … I will deal with the heat.”

The change-of-heart was news to the Oregon AFL-CIO, the lead group in the coalition working to raise the minimum wage.

Courtney’s office had not returned a call from the Labor Press by the time this went to press.

The Oregon House is considering three minimum wage bills this year. House Bill 2009, sponsored by State Rep. Rob Nosse, would raise the minimum from its current $9.25 to $11.50 in 2016, $13.25 in 2017, and $15.00 in 2018. HB 2008, sponsored by State Rep. Margaret Doherty, would raise the minimum to $10.90 in 2016 and $12.20 in 2017. And HB 2004 would let local governments set a higher minimum wage than the state-wide minimum. The Oregon House Labor Committee will hold a hearing on all three bills April 13 from 6 to 8 p.m. in Hearing Room F.

[UPDATE 3/31/15, 1 p.m.: Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain called with a reaction to Courtney’s statement. “Too often, labor is patted on the head and told ‘not now,’” Chamberlain told the Labor Press. “When was the last time the president of the Senate sent business a message that [something it wanted] was dead on arrival? I find it extremely discouraging. It sends the wrong message to those who are struggling to make ends meet.” Chamberlain said the coalition plans to continue to fight for the increase.]

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