OR lawmakers consider $15 minimum wage, supporters plan ballot m - KPTV - FOX 12

OR lawmakers consider $15 minimum wage, supporters plan ballot measure effort

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As state lawmakers consider several bills that would raise Oregon's minimum wage to $15 an hour, the group 15 Now announced their plans to gather signatures for a minimum wage hike ballot measure.

15 Now plans to submit paperwork on Friday to begin their effort to put the measure on the November 2016 ballot, in case the minimum wage hike effort fails to advance in state government.

The ballot measure would be similar to Senate Bill 610, which would raise Oregon's minimum wage over three years to $15 an hour.

The current minimum wage is $9.25 an hour.

Hundreds of people attended a joint House and Senate committee meeting Monday evening, where members of the public testified in favor and against raising minimum wage.

Oregonians also testified in front of House and Senate committees earlier in the day.

“It would really mean that I could start planning for the future,” said Erin Zygaitis, who testified in favor of raising the minimum wage. “I wouldn't have to just to pay the bills that are required to pay each month.”

Zygaitis is a single mother who manages a floral shop in Eugene.

She makes $12 an hour, but still has “a feeling of desperation and frustration that you put in everything you have, all of your energy and yet you aren't making the basic needs that you need to meet,” she said.

Critics of raising minimum wage say it will hurt businesses, forcing them to raise prices and cut hours and jobs.

John Zielinski, who owns a farm northeast of Salem, would rather see the issue handled on the federal level, so all states are on the same playing field.

Raising Oregon's minimum wage so significantly would put farmers in the state at a competitive disadvantage, he said.

“Farmers are often price takers, not price setters,” he explained. “We're selling wholesaled commodities and we don't get to pass our expenses on to the consumer.”

Zielinksi is a fourth-generation farmer who grows apples, pears, hazelnuts and peaches. He anticipated $15 minimum wage would cause him to lose money and change the produce he grows.

“We'd probably switch to crops that employ fewer people,” he said.

Supporters say raising the minimum wage would help the economy.

Peter Emerson, who owns Bipartisan Café in Southeast Portland, believes his business will benefit if lawmakers approve a $15 minimum wage.

Emerson said he would not cut jobs, but would likely have to increase prices slightly.

“They can't afford my cup of coffee at the price I have now. If I raise it and they've gotten a $6 an hour raise, they'll be able to afford a cup of coffee,” he said.

Ultimately, he believes it will mean more money for his business and the community.

“Some people won't even notice the price increase. There will probably be some people who will be frustrated by it. But it will even out,” said Emerson.

About 103,500 jobs paid Oregon's minimum wage in early 2014, the most recent numbers the state has available.

That represents six percent of jobs in the state.

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