July 1 will mark the first installment of the Oregon Legislature’s tiered nine-year plan, aimed at annually raising minimum wages in Oregon’s categorized counties—Base, Portland, Metro, UGB, and Non-Urban—through July 2023. Corvallis is considered within the “Base” category and will see a minimum wage increase from $9.25 to $9.75 per hour this year. By 2023, local rates are expected to rise to $13.50 per hour.
Some city-livers aren’t entirely satisfied with this gradual plan, arguing that the proposed incrementations won’t meet the immediate needs of low-income households. One organization rallying for higher pay is the 15 NOW campaign. This group recently lobbied for a steeper and more immediate increase: $15 per hour by 2019 with no geographic reductions.
Local petitioner Bart Bolger remembers gathering signatures for the 15 NOW initiative, before the new $13.50 bill was passed to law. Bolger supported the initiative, alongside local International Workers of the World (IWW), OSU members, and other miscellaneous petitioners.
Signatures for the 15 NOW petition have since been halted and efforts redirected toward “working with state universities to increase the minimum wage for their hourly employees.” This is largely due to a lack of voter support and organizational efforts. Bolger also explained that “because of the preemption laws in Oregon, counties and cities are banned from enacting a higher-than-state minimum wage for local businesses but may do so for their own employees.”
While the NOW 15 campaign considers, at large, the new nine-year plan to be a step forward, they see the ongoing base raises as insufficient for poverty-affected families. “There’s nothing magic about the timeline,” said Bolger.
Bolger and others campaigning for 15 NOW are worried the new plan will only perpetuate disparities, keeping the 14.8% of Benton County poverty-level households, as reported by the US Census Bureau, straddling the line instead of rising above.
“Delaying an increase only extends the period during which working families are unable to pay their bills,” said Bolger.
But would a steeper, more immediate increase even be feasible for our local employers? Speaking only for herself, general manager of the First Alternative Co-Op and president of the CIBA (Corvallis Independent Business Alliance) Board of Directors Cindee Lolik believes the nine-year plan allows for a realistic timeframe.
“It allows enough time for business owners to make adjustments needed to comply with raising the wage over a period of time instead of an instant increase of $3 or $4 per hour that would undoubtedly lead to having to make hasty decisions about scheduling, hiring, and retaining staff,” said Lolik.
So far, the long-term effects are unclear. One backlash could be landlords raising rents, as evidenced by one Corvallis landlord who plans to raise rates for all properties after July 1, when the new law is implemented. This could, as Lolik said, “negate the additional dollars [renters] take home after the minimum wage increase.”
Realistically, how each business handles these changes is entirely up to them, and while it’s well worth considering them and rallying against the prospect of persisting poverty levels, one is advised to take a standpoint of feasibility for our local economy and business owners.
By Stevie Beisswanger