Oregon Legislature looks to tackle big issues for low-wage workers in 2016

By Marcus Swift, NWJP's Staff Attorney
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The 79th assembly of the Oregon Legislature doesn’t officially start until February 1, 2016, but efforts are already underway to improve conditions for Oregon workers. The most pressing issues? An increase to the state’s minimum wage and added tools to enforce existing wage laws, protect workers, and collect unpaid wages.

Various proposals to increase the minimum wage have been introduced through both the ballot initiative process and the legislature, including the latest – a plan by Governor Kate Brown to raise the minimum wage gradually to $15.52 in the Portland metro area and $13.50 statewide by 2022. Hundreds of supporters of an increased minimum wage attended a legislative hearing on the topic held on January 14. We heard compelling testimony from workers from around the state, including that of Bertha, one of our clients, who dreams of sending her daughter to college but can barely afford to stay afloat on her minimum wage job.

Working people in Oregon stand to gain much needed economic stability through efforts to raise the minimum wage. At the same time, an alarming number of workers are not receiving their wages after the job is done. This is especially common for people who work in restaurants, retail stores, construction, Oregon’s agricultural industry, and as domestic workers.

This session, the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft, led by NWJP, is supporting legislation to lay a solid foundation for additional reforms in 2017. Our proposed bill in 2016 would increase workers' ability to access their own wage and hour records (including detailed pay stubs), and hold employers accountable for denying access to such records. Additionally, the bill would give the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) additional resources to stop employers who are repeat offenders.

In an interim hearing on January 13, lawmakers heard from state and national experts on wage theft, officials from BOLI, and several workers in industries impacted by wage theft, including healthcare, construction, and the building trades. A tentative hearing on the full legislation is expected to take place on February 4, 2016.

To help make a difference and pass stronger wage theft laws this session, click here to find your Oregon State Senator and Representative. Then call or e-mail them and let them know that you support stronger enforcement of wage theft laws during the 2016 session.