Now it’s law — workers in Hood River County will earn a minimum of $13.50 per hour by 2022.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday signed SB 1532, which gradually raises the state’s wage floor in three regional tiers.
Over six years, hourly minimum pay for the Portland metro area will rise to $14.75, semi-urban counties including Hood River and Wasco will climb to $13.50 and eastern Oregon counties will lift to $12.50.
Oregon’s current minimum wage, $9.25, will nudge up to $9.75 on July 1.
“I’m proud to sign into law my top priority of the 2016 Legislative session — raising the minimum wage,” Brown said in a statement.
She described the bill as a “path forward so working families can catch up, and businesses have time to plan for the increase.”
President Barack Obama applauded Oregon’s legislation in his own statement later that day.
“I commend the Oregon Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown for taking action to raise their state’s minimum wage,” Obama said.
He urged the U.S. Congress to follow suit and raise the federal minimum wage — currently $7.25 — in order to “keep up with the rest of the country” and “finally give America a raise.”
The Oregon bill proved controversial in Salem, with broad Democratic support but heavy opposition from Republican leaders. Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River) and Rep. Mark Johnson (R-Hood River) voted against the three-tier plan, citing detrimental impacts on agriculture and small business.
House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) feels the minimum wage plan addresses the needs of workers in diverse parts of Oregon.
“We believe it’s going to help boost the economy … and addresses regional differences around the state,” Kotek said Thursday in a conference call.
She explained the regional breakdown surfaced after policymakers studied data regarding the “self-sufficiency standard,” or overall costs of living, of different areas of the state.
“You have to make some choices and we did our best for (each) county,” Kotek said when asked about Hood River and Wasco’s designation in the middle tier.
Business owners in Hood River County had various reactions to the minimum wage increase.
Craig Bowder, board chair of Hood River County Chamber of Commerce, said the organization didn’t take a stance on the topic, but they heard a fair share of “fear” from small businesses over the aspect of climbing labor costs.
However, many members considered the legislation a compromise that balances cost of living for employees with the need company owners have to “make ends meet,” he said.
“I think the state did the best they could, having it staggered over time,” Bowder said of the incremental wage increase, which has “alleviated a lot of concern for small businesses.”
The chamber represents about 500 member businesses over a wide spectrum of political ideologies.
Mike Van Sisseren, owner of Doppio and Ground on Oak Street, said he would have preferred a plan that includes a seasonal or transitional wage, which would make it more feasible to hire high school age workers as long-term employees.
“We have this all or nothing mentality … there needs to be a training wage,” Van Sisseren said.
Jason Bustos, owner of Gorge area McDonald’s, expressed optimism for the wage boost. However, he said it will drive up costs for customers and push businesses to reevaluate the pay they give managers and experienced workers.
“I love the fact that my employees are going to make more money — it just complicates things for the rest of the employees who (earn more),” Bustos said.
Bustos oversees six Gorge McDonald’s locations — two in Hood River, two in The Dalles, and one each in Goldendale and Biggs Junction. The Gorge McDonald’s franchises employ about 203 workers, with roughly 70-80 employees in Hood River alone.
Orchardists in Hood River County are critical of the minimum wage plan.
“It’s a horrible thing for farmers who rely on hand labor, especially in a situation where we can’t pass our cost on in a global market,” said Mike McCarthy, a Parkdale pear orchardist.
McCarthy and his son own a business that farms more than 300 acres of fruit in the upper valley, mostly pears. That produce goes out around the nation and overseas. During harvest, the farm’s workforce peaks at 100.
Employees generally earn above minimum wage, but McCarthy anticipates the pay rates will have to keep climbing to compensate for the state’s minimum wage schedule. Workforce housing also remains a cost the lawmakers haven’t factored, he feels.
Representatives of Kennedy Orchards Inc., which owns the Gorge White House in Pine Grove, gave similar sentiments, according to written testimony filed Feb. 2 in the Oregon Legislative Information System.
“We, the farmer, (have) no control over our pricing,” the Kennedys wrote. “We are a small family farm that cannot accommodate these increased costs and will be forced out of business.”
The minimum wage law Brown signed will begin in July.
• Portland’s urban growth boundary will increase to $14.75 by 2022.
• Workers in Hood River, Wasco, Jackson, Benton, Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Deschutes, Josephine, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Tillamook, Washington and Yamhill counties will earn $13.50 per hour by 2022.
• Employees in Malheur, Lake, Harney, Wheeler, Sherman, Gilliam, Wallowa, Grant, Jefferson, Baker, Union, Crook, Klamath, Douglas, Coos, Curry, Umatilla and Morrow counties will earn at least $12.50 per hour.