In the three months that Oregon’s $15 minimum wage initiative has been on the streets, volunteers have collected close to 16,000 signatures. That actually means they’re a little behind: The union-backed campaign has until July 8, 2016, to turn in 88,184 valid signatures, and they’re aiming to collect 125,000 in order to have a healthy buffer. Up to now, it’s been an all-volunteer effort except for full-time campaign coordinator Justin Norton-Kertson of the group 15 Now (and he earns $15 an hour). But the campaign got a boost in early December when Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA) committed $25,000 to fund paid signature gatherers.
Incredibly, more than a quarter of the signatures collected so far have come from a single individual: retired letter carrier Jamie Partridge, the initiative’s chief petitioner. Partridge, 66, is a lifelong activist and 31-year member of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82. He’s been involved with countless groups over the years, including Portland Jobs with Justice, which he helped found. In 2008, his civic involvement garnered official honors by proclamation of then-mayor Tom Potter. And Partridge only stepped up the pace after his 2011 retirement. Since mid-September he’s spent 15 hours a week out on the sidewalks, riding light rail, or outside public events gathering signatures. He’s approaching 5,000 signatures now and says he’s shooting for 15,000 before the end of the campaign.
“Generally people are very receptive and thankful that I’m doing it,” Partridge said of the reaction he gets when he approaches with his clipboard. “Low-wage workers want to tell me their stories about how hard it is to pay the rent.”
If approved by voters, the measure would raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $11.50 in 2017, $13.25 in 2018, and $15 in 2019. The initiative has the endorsement of dozens of unions, but business opposition is a certainty. Partridge hears some of it when he’s gathering signatures.
Portland rents have doubled in 10 years. It’s wages that are stagnant.” — Chief petitioner Jamie Partridge
His response: It’s not as dramatic as it sounds. In 1989, the Oregon Legislature raised the minimum wage from $3.35 to $4.75 over two years, which works out to about 20 percent a year — with no apparent shock to the economy. A raise from the current $9.25 to $15 over three years would work out similarly to 20 percent a year.
He hears concerns from some working people, on the other hand, that a big raise in the minimum wage might cause prices to go up. But there’s no sign of that so far in Seattle, where the minimum wage jumped from $9.47 to $11 on April 1. The most recent consumer price index report for the Seattle area shows prices actually dropped 0.3 percent in the last two months (though they rose 1.2 percent over the previous 12 months.)
“I also point out that prices are going up anyway. Portland rents have doubled in 10 years. It’s wages that are stagnant.”
OSEA’s support means the campaign is more likely to meet its goal of going into the February 2016 legislative session with 30,000 to 40,000 signatures in hand. The Legislature is expected to take up the issue of raising the minimum wage. Partridge says if it raises it high enough — and ends a state ban on higher local minimum wages — the $15 campaign might stand down from the statewide effort and campaign to get a $15 minimum wage on the ballot in Multnomah County.
READY TO SIGN? You don’t have to wait until you see a signature gatherer. You can download a single-signer petition sheet at oregoniansfor15.org, and mail it in.