Members of the Portland State University Student Union joined over 400 protestors as they marched through downtown Portland on April 15 in an attempt to increase the minimum wage to $15 after the Portland City Council unanimously voted to amend its Fair Wage Policy to raise minimum wage for contractors and full-time workers.
The march was part of a national effort to raise the minimum wage; Seattle passed legislation to increase its minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour, effective April 1, and San Francisco has implemented similar legislation.
Proponents of Fair Wage Policy marched from O’Bryant Square to the PSU campus, making stops at Pittock Place, Portland’s town hall, and PSU’s Smith Memorial Student Union, utilizing guest speakers at each location to urge employers to change their standards for minimum pay-grades.
Participants toted red signs and purple balloons with the Oregon Union symbol, chanting as they marched through downtown thoroughfares. Initially, marchers walked on sidewalks but briefly filled Broadway Street, interrupting traffic for a short time.
“Here in Oregon, we’re the first to have a real conversation about a statewide minimum wage,” said Justin Norton-Kertson, an organizer of the event, through a loudspeaker.
15 Now’s Oregon group recently revealed plans to file a measure onto the ballot that would raise minimum wage statewide to $15 per hour by 2019. Several other bills will call for the same.
“The movement’s growing, and they’re sweating, and before you know it we’re going to have 15 [dollars] in all 50 [states],” Kertson said, met with the crowd’s cheers.
At Portland’s City Hall, demonstrators spoke briefly before making rounds through the interior of the building, which was mostly unoccupied. “I work for the city, Portland Parks and Recreations,” said one participant outside Portland Town Hall. “I work for our community’s important life events—that’s weddings, birthdays, anniversaries—and I’m living in poverty.”
At SMSU, Aramark employees and PSUSU members gave speeches in the building’s cafeteria.
“Most of us are student workers,” said PSU Aramark employee Nicole Straub.
“Most of us have two to three jobs, and even with those two or three jobs we can’t pay rent, we can’t pay for daycare, we can’t pay for parking; we have all sorts of things that we can’t meet,” she continued.
“[PSUSU] knows about the connection between raising tuition…[for] next year and the budget for armed security, so that education isn’t affordable,” said PSUSU member Alyssa Pagan. “And not only that, it’s also, frankly, dangerous.”
“What is the message when a university says, we’re going to charge you more, and give you less in grants?” Pagan asked. “They’re saying we want you to get into low-wage positions where you have no choices because you have to pay back debt you accrued in the first place.”
“Portland is not alone in this fight,” she added. “There are over 235 cities across the nation that are fighting for the same thing we are right now. This is not a Portland problem; this is a capitalism problem,” she said.
“I don’t know if you know this, but international students can’t work off campus, so I’m forced to work a minimum wage job,” said PSUSU member Sonya Friedman. “If I want to further my professional career, I have to go through a million bureaucratic hoops.
“There’s a problem with living wage, in my opinion,” said Lindsay Day, a PSU student present in SMSU when the protestors marched in. “Rent goes up, but I get paid the same.”
After filing for a ballot measure for Oregon $15 minimum wage, supporters will need to collect 1,000 valid signatures, according to an April 17 press release from 15 Now Oregon. When this happens, Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins will draft a ballot title. Next, organizers will need to collect at least 88,000 more valid signatures by July 2016 in order to qualify the initiative for the November 2016 ballot.