It’s amazing to me the disparity of opinions depending on which camp you identify with. Last night at the Oregon State Capitol, these two camps identified on whether you were “for” the minimum wage increasing or “against” the minimum wage increasing. Here’s the irony in the great divide: We all want the same thing. We all hate poverty. We all want living wages for all. We all want healthy individuals. We all want to have and be contributing members of society. The only difference between us is the ideas on how to accomplish that.
My friend Macey and I arrived at the capitol at 4:45pm and got into a line over 100 people long. This line was just for people to sign up to testify. Testimony was to start at 6pm. My greatest disappointment is the view people have for the other side. In actuality, most likely the opinion you’ve formed is wrong. And I’m talking to both sides.
Back story… One woman angrily began her testimony with this statement: “I want to point out the three men on the panel before me…”
I don’t recall the three men that sat before her, but I can imagine they looked a lot like my dad. He’s 57, white, and wears plaid a lot. Maybe a jacket or a wool vest. My guess is those three men looked like that.
Let me tell you about my dad. He’s a second generation grass seed farmer, growing up with three brothers and two sisters. They didn’t want for much, but they also didn’t have a lot. My dad worked for the family farm since he was a kid, missing weeks of high school to work on his dad’s custom spraying business for other farmers in the Willamette Valley. Realizing the family farm wouldn’t support all the brothers, him and his brother Gene started a trucking business with two trucks. They hauled potatoes, Christmas trees, watermelon, onions, lumber and anything else they could get paid for. He was gone on a “long-haul” more time than he was home. He’s mortgaged everything he owns to take risks on ideas, where some have panned out, others have failed. He farms today, along with that trucking business, and this year we are surviving. The money is coming in, but going right out in the form of equipment payments, fuel and labor. That’s okay because we get to contribute to the local community! That is what is so exciting about local, small business. We have good years and we have bad years – it’s farming. It’s life. To this day he feels guilty for missing part of my and my sister growing up years. My sister Ola and I? We’re proud of him – he did what he had to do, making sacrifices, for his family. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Ever.
There was another sterotype mentioned multiple times from one camp: the single mom. I mentioned my friend Macey. Her story is too long to write here, but deserves to be heard. She lost her husband to cancer within a year of giving birth to their daughter and has been a single mom for now 10 years. She struggled with tens of thousands of dollars of medical debt she took it upon herself to slowly pay off over the years. She has struggled and still does. And she has had to make hard choices because it is extremely difficult to be a single mom these days – and let’s be honest at any time would it be hard to be a single mom or dad.
My advice: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Please don’t stereotype those human beings by the color of their skin, their gender, the age he/she is, whether they are single or not raising children, or the plaid he chooses to wear. Nor assume that if they fit this stereotype they automatically have to sit in one camp or the other.
Time for my FAVORITE part of the night. Two words. Malheur County. A great reporting by the Capital Press in this article: East Oregon ag interests lobby against wage hike plans. I met a woman named Sharla. Her family agri-business includes growing and a packaging facility for onions and asparagus, among other things. I was surprised to hear her farm and agri-business employs 150 people. Wow! They are located 400 yards from the Idaho border. Idaho’s minimum wage is $7.25. I asked her why she didn’t originally locate in Idaho. She said they thought about it but the community they lived in was more important. With a wage hike, though, they will be forced to re-locate and have already found a place to do so. What a travesty that would be. Their theme to the legislature was this: #CarveUsOut. I get it – can I jump on that bandwagon?
I wasn’t able to testify as the Chairs of the Committees stopped testimony at 9:00pm. Because Eastern Oregon had so many people there to testify, they were able to go first. I am glad they were all able to do so. I’m also disappointed I wasn’t able to speak about our farm and the affect an increase would have. But on the flip side, I was home in my warm bed within 30 minutes of leaving Salem. The Oregonians from the east side of the state didn’t get home until early this morning after riding in a bus all night long. Eastern Oregon: Your testimony was inspiring. Thank you.
Finally, this is directed at the Oregon Legislature. If a doctor tells me I have high blood pressure, I do. I might get a second opinion, but I’m going to believe the doctor. You know why? Because he’s a doctor, and went to medical school. I am not a doctor and I did not study the human body and medicine. If the business community is telling you we can’t do this, we can’t. You know why? Not because we want to be richer. We want to continue to employ our employees that have been with us loyally for decades. We want to continue to pay our taxes, support the local counties and state, and we want to continue promoting Oregon to the communities, states, and the world. If the agriculture community is telling you we can’t do this, we can’t. You know why? Because we farm, you don’t. We know the cost inputs, and the money we get paid for our crops. It’s not an opinion, it’s fact. And last night you heard it over, and over, and over again. Why don’t you believe us?
As for the few businesses owners that testified in support of the minimum wage hike, no one is stopping you! That’s great you give raises! We do too. An Adorable Old Guy testified last night: “If Portland wants to pay their employees more, go ahead and do so. No need to wait for this to pass.”
Brings me to my testimony. I’m posting my testimony here, along with Macey Wessels and Anna Scharf as we weren’t able to testify and we would like to share our story. Thank you for listening. Also – one last thing – I might wear cowboy boots and you might wear rubber boots, tennis shoes, flip-flops, or heels, but in general we all want the same thing. Oregon, let’s try to remember that.