Originally published on the Oregonians for 15 website on October 26, 2015
After rigorous debate, Oregon’s largest labor federation voted to support Oregonians for 15, the campaign to raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 per hour. Hundreds of union members were in Seaside this past weekend as delegates to the annual Oregon AFL-CIO convention, where a unanimous vote was taken to endorse the $15 ballot initiative. The delegates from the 37 unions that make up the federation heard and voted on resolutions on issues ranging from the Black Lives Matter movement, to statewide anti-worker legislation, and raising Oregon’s minimum wage.
Two resolutions related to the minimum wage came before the committee on laws and legislation before making their way to the convention floor. One resolved to support all efforts to raise the minimum wage that get it as high as possible as fast as possible, and that include efforts to restore local control of minimum wage laws. The second resolved to endorse the $15 ballot initiative campaign by the Oregonians for 15 coalition.
Debate in the laws and legislation committee was heated at times. Some delegates argued that $15 can’t win because experts say it didn’t poll high enough. Chief Petitioner and delegate for the Oregon State Letter Carriers, Jamie Partridge, argued that $15 polled 54% in Oregon two years before the 2016 election, and less than a year after the push for $15 began here. He explained that if the labor movement united behind the initiative and combined its collective resources, $15 can win at the ballot.
Lisa Gourley, a member of the board of directors for the Oregon School Employees Association and a member of the convention’s laws and legislation committee, also spoke in favor, “We have thousands of members who make less than $15 and need this initiative to get out of poverty.” Tina Turner-Morfitt, member of AFSCME Council 75 and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, explained why she felt it’s important for the Oregon AFL-CIO to endorse the $15 ballot measure, “Unions are out trying to convince community people that unions are for them, and we have to be true to that. We can’t go and bargain a $15 minimum wage for our members, but then do something less for the community who are non-union workers… We have to do it in good deeds, and a good deed is to fight for a minimum wage of $15.”
Committee members, board members, and member-delegates from other unions including OFNHP, Laborers Local 483, AFSCME Local 3214, UAW Local 1981, Oregon AFT. PCCFFAP, and ATU Local 757 defended the campaign as part of a workers movement that was sweeping the nation. Ultimately, Resolution 15 was sent to convention floor by the committee with a do-pass recommendation, and when the vote was taken on the convention floor it passed with the unanimous support of the delegates.
$15 is continuing to win huge victories here in Oregon and across the nation, victories that help build the movement and increase support. Three years ago $15 was seen as impossible and not even taken seriously by most people in the labor movement. Now $15 victories have been won by and for hundreds of thousands of workers in cities and states across the country. Portland full-time city workers and contract workers, and Multnomah County employees have won $15. Food services businesses are opening in the Portland area that are paying a $15 minimum wage. This summer in Oregon, over 20,000 home care workers won a $15 minimum wage with the fastest phase in of any $15 victory in the nation. And last week the City of Milwaukie passed an ordinance guaranteeing a $15 minimum wage for all city workers and independent contractors who work for the city.
The Fight for $15 in Oregon has made tremendous movement and progress in a very short amount of time. With the combined resources and support of the labor community and other progressive community and faith organizations, united together with low-wage workers and supportive allies around the state in a mass movement of volunteers collecting signatures and getting out the vote, campaign organizers are confident that the polls will only continue to climb and that $15 will win at the ballot in November 2016.