Community groups, labor unions, workers, and other supporters of a $15 minimum wage packed City Hall so full that the balcony had to be opened for overflow. They came out to testify at a Portland City Council hearing the city’s Fair Wage Policy, expressing their support for updating that policy to a $15 minimum wage.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman called the hearing and presented a resolution, co-sponsored by Mayor Hales, which amends the Fair Wage Policy to a $15 per hour minimum, and directs the Bureau of Human Services to develop a plan to assess the level of compensation for so-called “casual” workers.
Passage of a $15 Fair Wage Policy would affect about 175 janitors, security guards, parking attendants and others who work for companies that contract with the City of Portland. Linda Sporer, who works at the Portland Building said, “As a security officer, I have a serious responsibility to keep people safe. When I get home, I have an added responsibility to do everything I can to support my family. This wage increase will make a real difference – giving me the resources to get ahead instead of barely getting by.”
Updating the Fair Wage Policy helps hard working people in Portland, and will be an important victory in the growing movement for a $15 minimum wage. “The Fair Wage Policy here in Portland is the first step in raising the minimum wage to $15, not only for all city workers, but for all who live and work in Portland,” says Tamara Kneese of 15 Now PDX.
During his State of the City address Mayor Hales announced support for raising the Fair Wage Policy to $15, and also all permanent, full-time city workers. But the proposal leaves out 1800 so-called “casual” parks department employees who are working less than full-time hours, on poverty wages. In fact, much of the public testimony focused on this next phase of the local Fight for $15, as speaker after speaker lined up to demand that so-called “casual” city workers not be left out.
One of these so-called “casual” employees is Icarus Jacoby Smith, who works at the Mount Scott Community Center, “Part-time seasonal workers are an integral part of the Parks Department. We are here making sure that the parks, pools, and facilities are kept safe and enjoyable year-round. I think it’s time our wages reflect a certain level of recognition for the work we do in this community.”
At the hearing 15 Now PDX, Portland Jobs with Justice, SEIU Local 49, which represents workers affected by the Fair Wage Policy, and LiUNA Local 483, which represents parks workers, showed support for the Mayor’s plan, but called on the City Commissioners to set up a contingent workers task force to produce a concrete plan for creating more full-time jobs that would be covered under the currently proposed $15 minimum wage for city workers, to redefine “casual” to be more accurate and limited in use, and to raise the minimum wage to $15 for all city workers regardless of their classification or number of hours worked.
Public testimony on the issue lasted for hours as community members, union and community organization representatives, faith leaders, and low-wage workers spoke out in favor of a $15 minimum wage for contract workers, city workers, and for all working people in the City of Portland. Not one person spoke in opposition.
During the hearing, Commissioner Fritz introduced a number of amendments to the council resolution. Among those amendments was one to limit the increase to $15 in the Fair Wage Policy to full-time contract workers only (in addition to 18 full-time, permanent city workers that are separate from the Fair Wage Policy), and another to ensure the contingent worker task force will be finished with its work in time for the next budget cycle. She also announced plans to amend her current budget request to include a $15 minimum wage for all seasonal city maintenance workers starting in their second year of employment.
15 Now PDX opposes any attempt to limit the $15 minimum wage to full-time workers only, but also applauds Commissioner Fritz for championing a $15 minimum wage for seasonal maintenance workers.
At the end of the hearing, the City Council voted unanimously to raise the city’s Fair Wage Policy to $15 per hour. Justin Norton-Kertson, organizer for 15 Now PDX said in response, “This is a huge victory for the Fight for $15 here in Portland, in the State of Oregon, and across the country. We applaud the Mayor and commissioners for pushing this through, and we call on them to continue working to ensure $15 now for all city workers.”
Make no mistake. This victory comes as the result of a hard-fought, grassroots, bottom up campaign of low-wage city workers and activists coming together, building coalitions, and building a movement with the strength to push our city council to action. Commissioner Fish said himself, “We’re here because the community has spoken,” specifically citing the work of 15 Now PDX, Jobs with Justice, and other partners who worked together to win this the Fair Wage Policy victory.
And that battle for the Fair Wage Policy has now been won. It is a great first step for the Fight for $15 here in Portland. But it is one battle, one step. We still have much more work to do. There are contractors and part-timers who have been left out of the revised Fair Wage Policy that need to be included. We need to win $15 for all city workers, for all working people in the City of Portland, and for the whole State of Oregon.
We can win these victories, but we need your help to do it! Become a volunteer today, or make a donation to the campaign fund and help us continue the Fight for $15. With your help we can win even bigger victories for Oregon’s working class!