minimum wage hike
A proposed ballot measure would raise the Oregon minimum wage from the current $9.25 an hour to $13.50 and allow local governments to set their own rates higher. Pictured: People celebrate the passage of the minimum wage for fast-food workers in New York, July 22, 2015. Reuters/Brendan McDermid

Oregon voters may get to raise the state’s minimum wage next fall if an alliance of labor unions and social activists gets its way. Unless state lawmakers pass a bill to increase the wage early next year, the Raise the Wage coalition will gather signatures to put the measure on the November 2016 ballot, the group's leaders announced this week.

"We're making it clear we're not willing to gamble with workers' lives and risk another year without a raise for Oregon workers," said Andrea Paluso, executive director of Family Forward Oregon. "We remain committed to working with lawmakers to pass a bill in the February 2016 legislative session, and believe it is their responsibility to do so."

The ballot measure would raise the state’s minimum wage from the current $9.25 an hour to $13.50 and allow local governments to set their own rates above the minimum, the Oregonian of Portland reported. The coalition filed for the measure Monday with the Oregon secretary of state.

Organizers must now collect 1,000 signatures to clear the first hurdle toward the measure’s certification. Then they'll need tens of thousands of additional signatures to qualify for the actual ballot. Meanwhile, another group is pushing for a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The coalition’s plan was announced as state lawmakers regrouped at the Capitol in Salem for a three-day conference on policy priorities for the February legislative session. Minimum wage hikes have been supported nationwide by Democratic leaders in states such as California and New York, where proposals call for $15 an hour.

Some Oregon Democrats were already on board with the legislation. House Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland said Monday that a wage increase measure will be near the top of the agenda for February. "One of the top priorities for the session will be the minimum wage discussion," Kotek said, according to the Oregonian. "I am completely convinced there will be ballot measure in 2016 unless we handle it."

Minimum Wage | InsideGov