Two Democratic leaders in the Oregon Legislature said they’ll propose changes to Oregon’s new minimum wage law next year, including lower rates for younger workers and trainees.
Speaking at a Portland Business Alliance breakfast Wednesday, House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick said they expect to push for those changes and others to help businesses adjust to Oregon’s landmark minimum wage law.
Their comments come as attention shifts toward Oregon’s May 17 primary elections and as some local governments grow increasingly restive about the costs involved in the increase.
The law, signed by Gov. Kate Brown this month, gives Oregon the highest statewide rates in the nation at $14.75 in Portland, $13.50 in a midsize areas and $12.50 in rural areas.
Kotek and Burdick, both Portland Democrats, said they support the idea of a lower wage for younger workers — for example, high school students working for extra money — and trainees. But they said they would have do so cautiously, tailoring the policy in a way that doesn’t harm older workers providing for their families.
“The trick with a training wage is to make it so tightly written that employers can’t use it to get around the minimum wage,” Burdick said.
While the idea is likely to get buy in from Republicans and moderate Democrats, it will almost certainly rile farm worker advocates, who lobbied hard in the February session against training and industry-specific wages. One of the main fears, they have said, is that employers will use lower training wages to perpetually short change seasonal farm workers.
Kotek, in an interview, acknowledged that’s a concern, and said legislative leaders would do what they could to mitigate it.
“I don’t think we know [yet] what the right way to do it is,” she said.
Kotek said she’s also working with Rep. Cliff Bentz, an Ontario Republican who led the opposition to the minimum wage, to create a policy to cushion businesses along the Idaho border. By the time the law fully takes effect in 2022, wages there will be $5 higher on the Oregon side — something Bentz and other Republicans say could ruin those communities.
Kotek said she doesn’t know yet what the Idaho border policy will look like, except that it will be targeted to the specific area.
Brown, for her part, hasn’t said whether she would support such changes.
In other minimum-wage developments this week, the chairman of Linn County’s board of commissioners told The Oregonian/OregonLive Wednesday that the board hasn’t officially decided on how to proceed with a threatened challenge of the minimum wage bill.
Roger Nyquist spoke in front of lawmakers in February, arguing the increase amounted to an unfunded mandate for local governments.
He said Oregon’s constitution, as amended by voters in 1996, requires lawmakers to provide funding when passing new programs, unless those programs pass with a supermajority. The minimum wage bill passed roughly along party lines.
That argument could take the shape of a lawsuit that tests whether rules around mandates apply to labor laws.
“It’s no secret we have a problem with the unfunded mandate component,” Nyquist said in an interview. “We will force the issue. We are exploring our options.”
Other counties are considering similar challenges of their own. Yamhill County’s chairwoman, Mary Starrett, said commissioners are worried about costs from pay increases but also from the state’s new automatic voter registration law.
“This is clearly an unfunded mandate. We’re straining under the hits we’re taking from Salem,” Starrett said. “I’d say it’s time we started using that tool.”
Lane County commissioners also have made noise about discussing a challenge, the Register-Guard reported late Tuesday. It’s unclear how many other counties might follow suit.
“Our practice is to hear from our legal counsel before making decisions about litigation,” Washington County Chair Andy Duyck said in a statement. “In this case, we have had no discussions as a board and no opportunity to ask our legal counsel about this.”
But one county almost certainly won’t get on board: Multnomah County. How come? Commissioners there voted in 2014 to raise county workers’ minimum pay to $15 by July 2016.
The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Allan Brettman contributed to this report.
— Ian K. Kullgren and Denis C. Theriault
(c)2016 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
Visit The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) at www.oregonian.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.