Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

May 7, 1999

CHEAPSKATE RESTAURANT OPERATORS and their cohorts in the Republican-run State Legislature at Salem are thumbing their noses at Oregonians who voted overwhelmingly in 1996 to raise the state's minimum wage.

At the urging of Oregon Restaurant Association (ORA) lobbyist Mike McCallum, the Oregon House of Representatives voted 34 to 26 to ignore the will of the voters by hatching a sub-minimum wage that features what's called "tip credit." The anti-worker legislation, House Bill 2793A, awaits action by the Oregon Senate. If it gets a thumbs-up there, workers are counting on Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber for a thumbs-down veto.

ORA's tip-credit scheme picks the pockets of waitresses and waiters in eating and drinking establishments by crediting their tips from customers to the minimum wage their employers are supposed to be paying. Tip credit was outlawed by the Democratic-majority 1977 Legislature but 22 years later a sub-minimum wage is politically palatable to the anti-worker 1999 Republican legislative leadership.

OREGON'S CURRENT minimum wage of $6.50 an hour, while the highest in the nation, falls far short of a living wage. According to the recent Northwest Job Gap Study, a living wage with no public assistance would require $10 an hour for an individual and nearly $17 for a single parent with two children.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only United States president elected to four terms, had this admonition for employers:

"No business which depends for its existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level - I mean the wages of decent living."

WORKERS WHO AREN'T paid enough to save a little money against the inevitable rainy day are a medical emergency or other unexpected major bill away from facing the specter of homelessness.

1996's Measure 36, put on the ballot by the Oregon AFL-CIO and a broad-gauged coalition of consumer, religious, community and union allies, was passed by a 56 to 44 percent margin. A total of 769,725 Oregonians voted for Measure 36, with 584,403 against it. Measure 36 raised the state minimum wage from $4.75 an hour to $6.50 over a three-year period. It passed in 49 of the 60 Oregon House of Representatives districts and in 25 of the 30 State Senate districts.

The Oregon Restaurant Association and its lobbyist give restaurant owners a bad name. Any eating and drinking establishment operator who doesn't want to be considered a cheapskate who picks the pockets of his or her workers and a bad citizen who disdains the will of the voters should issue a statement disavowing the ORA.


SOME REPUBLICAN state legislators, in addition to chiseling on the minimum wage, are attacking working families on other fronts. Arch-conservatives in the not-so Grand Old Party want to undercut the 1995 Family Leave Act, deprive poor people of food stamps, enact a "right-to-work"-for-less law, hamper enforcement of job safety and health regulations, further restrict injured workers from getting the compensation due them, make it even more difficult for farm workers to obtain union representation, and slash funding for the Oregon Health Plan.

The pro-corporation, anti-people attitude of two right-wing Republican senators from Washington County left a Beaverton woman aghast. In a letter published in the Valley Times weekly newspaper, Barbara Wilson wrote:

"At a recent Washington County Public Affairs Forum, State Sens. Eileen Qutub and Charles Starr expressed no interest/concern that the tax burden for the State of Oregon has shifted from business to the private individual.

"Only a few years ago, the tax burden was a 50-50 split between business and the individual, and now it is 60-40 with the individual paying more. Starr stated that taxes on business are passed on to the consumer, and Qutub stated that corporations provide jobs. This explains everything, of course!

"This would lead a person to ask, if taxes go down for corporations, then do prices go down?'

"...ISN'T IT OBVIOUS that the State of Oregon does not have sufficient money to provide the services that most people would find basic? Why is the Legislature fighting over school funding? Why did the Highway 26 tunnel to the coast lack proper maintenance, collapse and kill someone? Why are our state parks deteriorating? Because there isn't sufficient money...

"Yet Qutub and other conservative Republicans refuse to approve sufficient funding. They prefer, instead, to give a $52 million tax break to the timber industry ... Why do we keep electing these people to public office? Do they represent sensible solutions to keep Oregon a desirable place to live?"

To answer the lady's last question, NO with an exclamation point!


THE NEW YORK-OWNED Portland Oregonian newspaper periodically whines that collective bargaining sessions between government entities and unions representing their employees should be open to the public. What the Onian's (or Onion's) editors mean is that their reporters should be allowed to sit in on those contract negotiations. In their editorials on the subject, the Newhouse media chain's Portland editors are working under a severe handicap because they themselves have had zero experience with collective bargaining. Their reporters suffer from the same handicap. The Onian's news stories on collective bargaining issues reflect an ignorance of the subject, which is understandable because the New York Newhouse chain's Portland link, the Onian, is both anti-union and non-union.

Although the billion-dollar Onian's income derives from the public's subscriptions and merchants' advertising, the Newhouse newspaper has yet to invite interested outsiders to sit in on the editors' daily conferences where decisions are made that pass for editorial and news judgments at 1320 SW Broadway.


EDWARD M. OLSEN, a longtime president of Portland Carpenters Local 583, died in Spokane on April 20 at age 87. He had moved to the eastern Washington city two years ago.

He was born on Jan. 19, 1912 in Tacoma and moved to Portland in the 1930s.

He was president of Carpenters Local 583 from the 1960s until a multi-local merger two decades ago that created Local 247. Local 583 was the longtime owner of the Carpenters Building at North Lombard Street and Brandon Avenue, where Local 247 and several other unions have their offices and hold their meetings. The Carpenters Union Food Bank also is housed there.

For a number of years Olsen taught carpentry at community colleges in the area. His wife Jeanette died in 1989.

Survivors include a daughter, Judy Toelle of Mead, Wash.; two sons, John of Chapel Hill, N.C., and Edward of New Jersey, and seven grandchildren.

A graveside funeral service was held April 25 at Lincoln Memorial Park in southeast Portland with arrangements handled by Riplinger Funeral Home of Spokane.


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