- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon lawmakers have avoided at least one ballot fight with this month’s passage of an alternative measure to raise the state’s minimum wage through a unique tiered system based on geography, although a second, more aggressive ballot proposal still looms.

A coalition of labor and community groups, called the Raise the Wage coalition, said Monday that members have stopped gathering signatures for their November ballot proposals that would have raised the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour statewide over two or three years and allowed cities and local governments to set their rates above that threshold.

Instead, Senate Bill 1532, which Gov. Kate Brown has until Thursday to sign into law, will impose smaller hikes - except in metro Portland - in double the time period. The increases will differ based on three geographic regions, rather than a statewide hike, and keeps pre-emption in place that bans local governments from setting their own rates.

“While this proposal (SB 1532) diverges from our initial plan for raising the wage, it is overwhelmingly a win for Oregon workers - in large part because it gives a raise to over 100,000 minimum-wage workers this July,” Andrea Miller, executive director of Causa Oregon, one of the coalition members, said in a statement. “Most notably, this bill contains no carve-outs or exceptions for different classes of workers, like farmworkers or restaurant workers, or for people just starting out in their career.”

Another labor group, however, hasn’t yet decided whether SB 1532 passes muster with them. That coalition, called 15 Now Oregon, is proposing a separate, more aggressive hike to $15 an hour statewide by 2019.

“We’re still talking with all our coalition members,” Justin Norton-Kertson, a coalition spokesman, told The Associated Press on Monday. “There are definitely groups that feel like the minimum wage that was passed was a good enough deal. Others don’t like how it split the state into three areas.”

Under the measure, the state’s current $9.25 an hour minimum - already one of the highest in the nation - would climb to $14.75 in metro Portland, $13.50 in smaller cities such as Salem and Eugene, and $12.50 in rural communities by 2022.

The bill was crafted to thwart the ballot measures by finding compromise between the contrasting needs and desires of unions, businesses and farmers throughout Oregon’s urban and rural areas, which have long been deeply divided by their economic, cultural and political differences.

Senate Bill 1532 passed in the legislature on Feb. 18.

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