On Wednesday, the Portland, OR city council voted unanimously to increase the minimum wage for city workers and contractors to $15 an hour, currently the highest minimum wage anywhere in the country.
They amended the Fair Wage Policy, which sets the floor for about 173 full-time city employees and contractors. Most of the affected workers are janitors, parking attendants, and security workers paid by contractors who are subject to the policy. The wage increase could also trickle out to those who work for third-party vendors that honor the Fair Wage Policy.
Workers who won’t be covered include 1,800 seasonal and part-time employees mostly working for the Parks Bureau, many of whom have a capped number of hours they can work each year, often making their part-time status involuntary.
The wage hike comes as a bill is being considered in the Oregon legislature to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour from its current level of $9.25. It’s the first state considering that wage level; so far it has only taken hold in cities, where it was adopted in Seattle and San Francisco and is under consideration in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
The call for a $15 an hour minimum wage began with fast food workers, who started staging strikes three years ago to demand they paid at least that much. The call also spread to Walmart workers, who have staged many of their own strikes, and home care workers.
Critics of such high wage levels argue that businesses will have to cut jobs to deal with the higher cost of labor, thus hurting the low-wage workers the increases are meant to help. But a recent study of the low-wage fast food industry concluded that it could absorb a $15 wage without cutting jobs or hurting profits through lower turnover, higher prices, and greater economic growth.
While $15 an hour is the highest wage enacted so far, many other places have raised their minimum wages above the federal floor of $7.25 an hour. A number of states increased their wages last year, so many that as of January 1, the majority of states have wages that are higher than $7.25.