Why organized labor's drop-back from $15 to $13.50 will help the "Right to Work" campaign, or the High Cost of Hypocrisy

By Thomas Mosher of Portland, Oregon. Thomas Mosher was the press secretary for the Oregon Right to Know Campaign, and is currently a political communications, strategy, and policy consultant.

For months now there has been a movement growing in Oregon, and throughout the entire United States. Working people have been coming together and demanding a living wage. Consistently there had been solid line in the sand, and that was $15 an hour. Bernie Sanders has been calling for $15, Robert Reich has pointed to $15, Hillary Clinton has put shown some support for $15 and a coalition here in Oregon came together in the fight for 15 Now Oregon. Some gains were made as local unions came together with the 15 Now supporters to help push for government workers to get $15 an hour, Mayor Charlie Hales made it a solid part of his budget, and SEIU in Oregon pushed through the state legislature, fighting to get their workers a minimum of $15. Press had been building and things looked good for a serious push for Oregon to join Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angles to become the first State to make $15, a true living wage, the minimum wage for all people.

But then something happened. After gaining some major wins for their own members, organized labor and members of the established left got a bit of cold feet. See they are anticipating a serious fight in the next election cycle. Right to Work has been coming to Oregon, and it has labor gearing up for what I'm confident they believe will be a serious and costly battle.

But why?

Right to Work essentially has outside interests and members of the business community coming together to try and strike a major blow to unions and their ability to organize. Labor's concerns center around the public not understanding this, and either not coming out to vote, or coming in support of "right to work" because in name it sounds like a good thing.

This is where Raise the Wage and their coalition comes into this story. Looking out into what they surely see to be a potentially difficult campaign, it seems to me that they didn't want to weaken their push against Right to Work, so why not take $15 an hour off the table, in fact let's take minimum wage off the referendum table all together and push for $13.50 at the legislative level. Sounds like a great idea, labor can focus their efforts, and we can all feel good that we're still fighting to increase the minimum wage for every hard working Oregonian.

But wait, a $15 minimum wage already exists in parts of Oregon? Or it will be shortly instituted? But only for government employees and union members? That's an interesting situation. And there in lies the problem with Raise the Wage, and why their move from $15 to $13.50 ultimately hurts labor.

See, for Right to Work to succeed they have to make the average working Oregonian believe that "unions are bad", they're "self serving" and they "aren't looking out for you". What better way to do that, than by showing how they fight for one minimum wage for their members, and another for all Oregon workers. Because, "your jobs aren't worth what our jobs are." In the end, labor has handed this line of attack right to the Right to Work people, and they have already begun alienating their own supporters.

For Oregon's sake, I hope Right to Work fails, it is a horrible idea. We need stronger unions, and more organized workers. Organizing should be easier, not harder. But in the end, if Right to Work succeeds, I worry that the perceived abandonment of $15 will be one of the reasons for it. Turning their backs on non-organized workers isn't going to win them over. Fighting on their behalf, and showing the power, strength, and unity of labor to do good for all Oregonians, that is how you fight "Right to Work".

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