Minimum wage campaign fills Oregon Capitol hearing rooms

At an April 13 hearing on raising the minimum wage, three members of Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA) tell legislators about daily struggles with poverty. From left: South Eugene night custodian Windy Wiebke, West Linn instructional assistant Cynthia Muñoz, and Corvallis School District “lunch lady” Deanna Lundgren.
At an April 13 hearing on raising the minimum wage, three members of Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA) tell legislators about daily struggles with poverty. From left: South Eugene night custodian Windy Wiebke, West Linn instructional assistant Cynthia Muñoz, and Corvallis School District “lunch lady” Deanna Lundgren.

SALEM — Supporters and opponents of raising Oregon’s minimum wage traded volley after volley of public testimony at a joint legislative committee hearing April 13. Over 100 people signed up to testify at the  hearing, and it lasted more than three hours.

The hearing was held jointly by the Oregon House Business and Labor Committee, chaired by State Rep. Paul Holvey (D-Eugene) and the Oregon Senate Workforce Committee, chaired by Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland). The two committees are considering a total of 10 bills that would raise the minimum wage in varying amounts and as high as $15 an hour, or that would remove a state law barring cities from passing their own higher minimum wages.

Kotek Testifies
Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland), the first to speak at the hearing, calls on committee members to pass an increase in the minimum wage.

“Oregonians can’t wait five or 10 years for the fair wage they deserve,” said House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland), the first person to testify in favor. “Just raising it a dollar would not do enough.”

After hearing from Kotek and fellow increase supporter State Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson (D-Portland), lawmakers took testimony from alternating panels of three or four supporters or opponents, with each person given two minutes to speak. Members of the public who came to the Capitol to watch or testify filled the hearing room as well as three overflow rooms, where they watched the hearing via video link.

“I just want a wage that lets me live in dignity,” testified Oregon AFSCME Local 3214 member Linda Peterson, who works with developmentally disabled adults for a non-profit in Eugene.

Panel after panel of small businesses lined up to testify against raising the minimum wage, while some other small businesses—members of the progressive Main Street Alliance—spoke for it. Big businesses appear to have sat out the hearing, which was held in the evening to allow regular members of the public to testify.

I can’t pay my bills with self-esteem.” — OSEA member Windy Wiebke, a night custodian at South Eugene High School.

Several restauranteurs warned of dire consequences, including higher prices, lower profit margins, and servers who would be replaced with touch screen ordering devices—if the minimum wage were raised. A rye grass grower said she’d bring in foreign labor. An athletic club owner said he might lay off towel boys and use vending machines to dispense towels. An Outback Steakhouse executive said the company would be unable to open any new restaurants in Oregon if the minimum wage goes up.

Among the stranger spectacles was a panel of young Republicans, including a self-described “future politician” in a white bowtie and suspenders, and a clean-cut Salem Chamber of Commerce supporter who fretted that raising the minimum wage would cause members of the working class to have less motivation.

But the testimony was more personal than theoretical for a trio of Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA) members who talked about their daily struggles of living life in poverty —Corvallis School District “lunch lady” Deanna Lundgren, West Linn instructional assistant Cynthia Muñoz and South Eugene night custodian Windy Wiebke.

“I can’t pay my bills with self-esteem,” Wiebke said.

At Oregon’s current minimum wage of $9.25, a full-time year-round worker would gross just $19,000.

The two committees scheduled separate work sessions April 20 at which they could discuss the bills further, and vote to recommend one or more of them.

[MORE: View more photos of the hearing and rally here.]

15 Now Oregon
Supporters of the group 15 Now hold an impromptu rally in the Oregon Capitol rotunda April 13 before a joint House-Senate committe hearing on raising the minimum wage.

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