- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - With the first batch of gradual increases to Oregon’s minimum wage launching in two weeks, employers and workers got final word from the state on Wednesday about how payroll checks should be handled from there on.

The final rules, released by Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, clarify what businesses should pay employees who work in different parts of the state, which, beginning July 1 under this year’s new minimum wage law, will be divvied up into three geographic regions, each with their own unique wage minimums and increases through 2022.

Under the new rules, employees will earn the hourly wage in whichever of the three regions they spend more than half their time. For those with more transient schedules, their bosses can either pay the highest rate or break out their minimum earnings by hours worked in their prospective regions.

“I appreciate that both industry associations and minimum wage advocates stepped up to advise our agency’s rulemaking process,” Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, a Democrat who’s also running for Secretary of State in November, said in a statement. “As Oregon raises its minimum wage for more than a hundred thousand workers next month, we hope that the rules will provide fairness to workers and employers alike.”

On July 1, the current $9.25 statewide minimum will go up 50 cents in metro Portland, the region with the highest minimum, and also in the second region where smaller cities such as Eugene and Salem are situated. Rural areas mostly in the eastern part of the state will see a 25 cent-increase.

By 2022, Portland’s minimum will be set at $14.75, smaller cities at $13.50 and rural areas at $12.50.

It’s common for other U.S. cities and counties, but not allowed in Oregon, to set a higher wage than their state’s minimum. But Oregon’s tiered, geographical system - a compromise between businesses and labor groups after a contentious battle over a higher, statewide hike proposed at the Legislature in February - is an unprecedented approach at the state level that gained national attention.

But how employers would pay employees across multiple regions had been a point of months-long debate and businesses were concerned about some of the earlier rules Avakian’s office was considering.

Ultimately though, business community members see this week’s final rules as a “major improvement from where we started,” said Amanda Dalton, a lobbyist who represents grocers and other retail and agricultural clients.

The question now is, she said, “if this method works. And if it’s fair. And if not, I believe employee and employer advocates will work to reopen the rules and fix it.”

Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain said the new rules could be stronger for workers, but overall his union is “generally satisfied with the outcome of rulemaking.”

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