Workers at Portland’s First Unitarian Church Win $15 and a Union

As part of their first union contract, workers at the First Unitarian Church of Portland are guaranteed a wage of at least $15 per hour. This includes employees who are not part of the union, and is retroactive back to July 1, 2015.

The Portland Area Campaign for $15, which is being led by Portland Jobs with Justice, and of which 15 Now PDX is a part, is working to raise the minimum wage for at least 30,000 Portland area workers by 2017 through contract bargaining such as in the case of the First Unitarian Church, through voluntary commitments, and through new organizing campaigns for $15 and a union.

The following was originally published on the First Unitarian Church website on 11/19/15

Justice Begins at Home!

It was one year ago when some of our staff came into my office and requested recognition of a union for our employees. For almost nine months representatives of the employees and of the church administration have been in negotiation to craft an initial labor contract. Last spring, more than 300 individuals and families pledged additional financial support for increased wages to allow Justice to Begin at Home.

I am delighted to tell you that late last Tuesday, agreement was reached on our first labor contract. The members of the union approved its terms, as did the Executive Team. Last Sunday, the cost of the contract was approved by our Board of Trustees. The final document is being prepared for signatures, but agreement has been reached.

As promised when we raised the Justice Begins at Home funds, First Unitarian will now pay all of its employees at least a $15/hour minimum wage. That includes all employees, even those not in the union. The only exception is a six month probationary period for new employees. This significant raise will be retro-active to July 1. The benefits we offer, which are generous in the non-profit world, will remain undiminished.

A number of salaried employees, both in the union and outside, will also receive adjustments to their compensation. Most of these will be modest. Our goal remains to continue adjusting compensation for salaried staff as the congregation makes resources available.

We can be proud that we have taken a significant step toward the justice and equity our principles proclaim.

As we approach Celebration Sunday, we have much to be thankful for in this church community. The stars hung around the sanctuary speak of the inspiration, the support, the challenge and the love we create together in this place. We can now add our commitment to leadership in just compensation. The Beloved Community is built not only with words, but with our wallets. Our ability to fulfill the terms of this agreement depends on the continued generosity of the members of this community. Our gratitude for First Church needs to be matched with our willingness to support it.

I want to thank Nicole Bowmer, Jason Chapman and Nick Harrington who represented the union at the bargaining table. Also Rev. Tom Disrud and Pat Malone who represented the Executive Team. Special thanks to John Bishop, a congregant with extensive labor negotiation experience, who helped the process, not representing either side.

Last, but not least, thanks to all those who have waited patiently and all those who have contributed generously and all those who affirmed the need for the church to take this step. This achievement is all of ours to celebrate.



15 Now PDX Disrupts, Walks Out of Minimum Wage Hearing

On Monday dozens of supporters of a statewide $15 minimum wage marched through the state capitol building. They spent the morning going from office to office in large groups, talking to legislators and their staff about the importance of a statewide $15 minimum wage, and the importance of repealing the anti-worker, ALEC inspired preemption law that helps keep wages below the cost of living by preventing cities and counties from raising the minimum wage above the state level.

That afternoon, the Senate Workforce Committee held an informational hearing on raising Oregon’s minimum wage at which only one affected low-wage worker was given space to speak. The committee was greeted by a room full of low-wage workers and supporters in red 15 Now shirts. With about 40 15 Now supporters at the hearing, their presence dominated the room. At one point, all the $15 supporters were asked to stand to show their support, almost everyone in the room stood up except for the few business interests present.

Legislators heard about the various minimum wage campaigns and ballot initiatives underway, and also heard from business owners and others who support raising the minimum wage. A few business owners and lobbyists came to speak against raising the minimum wage.


Speaking about the campaign to raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 per hour, Justin Norton-Kertson expressed skepticism that Democrats can come together and do the right thing for Oregon’s low-wage workers and their families. Republican state senator Knopp, illustrating Republican disdain for working class issues, stood up and walked out of the room in the middle of Norton-Kertson’s presentation.

“We did this back in April…and we all know how that turned out. Nothing, right? And we all know that the issue isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats. Democrats have majorities in both houses…it’s Democrats who can’t agree among themselves. So I’m left wondering what the point of this is. Why should we believe that this session, which is only a month long, will be any different than last session. And if we were to get any minimum wage increase what would the compromise be? Would it be high enough for places like Portland, Eugene, Hood River, Bend, Corvallis, and Ashland? Would it leave out farmworkers or bring in a tip credit?”


Norton-Kertson also said that their lack of faith in Democrats is why a $15 ballot initiative was filed so early, and that if lawmakers won’t do the right thing, that they should at least refer both $15 and the repeal of Oregon’s minimum wage preemption law to the ballot so that voters can decide and do the right thing themselves.

Immediately after he finished speaking, 15 Now supporters stood up and mic checked the hearing, reiterating the call for a statewide $15 and the restoration of local control of minimum wage laws. In a call and response pattern, they asked why low-wage workers weren’t invited to speak at the hearing. They read off a long list of job types and industries in Oregon that pay less than $15 per hour, and then walked out of the hearing en masse chanting “$15 now and local control!”


Because Black Lives Matter! $15 NOW!
For homecare workers! $15 NOW!
For childcare workers! $15 NOW!
For janitors! $15 NOW!
For single mothers! $15 NOW!
For food service workers! $15 NOW!
For security guards! $15 NOW!
For nursing home workers! $15 NOW!
For retail workers! $15 NOW!
For rural Oregon $15 NOW!
For college campus workers! $15 NOW!
For city workers! $15 NOW!
For social workers! $15 NOW!
For farm workers! $15 NOW!
For farm workers! $15 NOW!

Click Here to view the video stream of the hearing and the mic check.

PSU Million Student March Highlights Poverty Wages Earned by Campus Workers

Students in 100 cities, including Portland, walked out of class and into the streets today as part of the Million Student March. This show of united strength aimed to make their needs heard by a political establishment and a system of corporate higher education that plunges students into a bleak future of massive debt.


Locally students and their allies gathered on the campus of Portland State University where they listened to the stories and struggles of fellow students, former students who are still in debt and working low-wage jobs despite having degrees, and campus workers earning poverty wages. From there they marched through the streets of downtown to the office of PSU President, Wim Wiewel, and to City Hall to make their demands heard.

1) Tuition-free public college

Until the 1970s and 1980s tuition was free at many public universities. Today, with massive cuts to public funding for education as well as privatization, tuitions are dramatically skyrocketing. This increasingly freezes out all but the most privileged from the degrees they will need for a good future, and saddles them with an un-payable debt. Higher education is a necessity in today’s world. Therefore, it should be viewed as a right and tuition-free public college is the only way to guarantee that this right is available for everyone.

2) Cancellation of all student debt

The total student loan debt is now more than $1.2 trillion, averaging $35,000 per borrower. Not even credit card debt reaches this staggering level. Such a burden not only hurts individual students, it hurts all of our communities because a community can’t prosper unless its members—who worked hard to get a higher education—aren’t weighed down with unfair debt with little available other than poverty wage jobs.

Photo by Malcolm Chaddock
Photo by Malcolm Chaddock

The only ones benefitting from this system of debt are the corporations and 1% who are being let off the hook from paying their fair share towards a public education system that trains their future workers. They should be made to pay and student debt should be eliminated to free up the money currently going to student loan payments to be spent in the economy.

3) A $15 minimum wage for all campus workers

No one who works should live in poverty. The practice of paying poverty wages to those whose labor keeps colleges running is especially at odds with these colleges’ purpose of providing the tools needed to lift up the quality of living for future generations. A $15 minimum wage for campus workers would not only help lift many thousands out of poverty, it would improve their morale, reduce workplace turn over, and increase workers’ motivation without the stressful distractions of needing to make ends meet on too few resources.


Because these demands address immediate needs that unite students and workers and impact all of our communities, they have immense potential in finding an active echo in the broad public.

Currently these demands are not considered “realistic” by corporate politicians, including those who mouth support for a $15 minimum wage while doing nothing. The only way to make them act is to build a unified social movement powerful enough to make it unrealistic for these so-called leaders to ignore us without serious consequences. When students and workers come together in massive numbers they have the independent power to define what is politically realistic as opposed to the politicians with their cozy and profitable relations with big business.

The Million Student March could prove to be an historic bench mark for the growth of such a movement. But for that movement to become a reality we have to keep working, keep orgnanizing, and keep building.


Portland Rally Demands $15 and Union for Janitors, Homecare Workers

Originally published on

In Portland hundreds of people marched and rallied for $15 and a union, as part of the national day of action that brought thousands of striking fast food workers into the streets in 270 cities across the country.  As many as 700 additional cities planned protests that supported low-wage workers in other industries.  

No fast food workers struck in Portland, but janitors and homecare workers raised their voices to demand a $15 wage, supported by the Portland Area Campaign for $15, a coalition made up of Portland Jobs With Justice, 15 Now PDX, SEIU 49, Laborers 483, AFSCME and others.

Nov10_2Home care worker Christine Pekert spoke at the rally, and when asked why she was fighting for a $15 wage she said, “I’ve been a home care worker for years, and I can remember days when I had to gather cans and bottles to buy gas to get to work. I need $15 and I’m here to support others demanding $15 too.”

At the Dia de los Muertos themed rally, workers and their supporters marched around the Pittock Building chanting “We work, we sweat, put $15 on the check!” to bring in good jobs with living wages. Earlier this year, the Pittock Building switched from union janitors to a low paying janitorial company, MBS, but the janitors and their allies are fighting back. The Pittock Building was also a focal point for $15 and a union protests earlier this year.


Also at the rally were activists working towards a statewide minimum wage of $15, an effort supported by dozens of labor unions and community groups.

Jamie Partridge, a volunteer for 15 Now PDX and chief petitioner for the Oregonians for 15 statewide ballot measure, talked about the importance of labor unions supporting the Fight for $15:

“Labor unions are under direct attack across the country, and their support of a $15 minimum wage has the potential to attract the support of millions of workers whose lives would be drastically improved with a $15 wage and union rights.”

Partridge is one of hundreds of volunteers across the state gathering signatures to put the $15 minimum wage on the Oregon ballot in 2016. A competing ballot initiative for $13.50 was recently filed by some Oregon unions with the Raise the Wage coalition.

Nov10_4The Fight for $15 has spread throughout low-wage America to such an extent that national politics have been affected.  Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders added the $15 minimum wage to his campaign platform.  In support of the national day of action for $15 Sanders said:

“i stand with the thousands of workers on strike today to demand $15 and a union.  In the year 2015, a job has got to lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it.”

15 Now supporters are also demanding that state lawmakers end the statewide preemption law that prohibits cities from raising their own minimum wage, so that local initiatives in Portland, Eugene, and elsewhere can be directly presented to and passed by voters.

To Donate to Oregonians for $15, in support of the statewide ballot initiative, click HERE

PSU Student Union, 15 Now Activists “Mic Check” Televised Minimum Wage Debate

Last night KATU and Portland State University held a debate and town hall on raising Oregon’s minimum wage. The need for a $15 minimum wage in Oregon dominated the evenings questions and discussion, which was often tense and heated. The audience clearly favored a $15 minimum wage, and was not shy about letting the opposition know they weren’t buying the doomsday arguments.

Olivia_TeresaMembers of 15 Now PDX and the Portland State University Student Union (PSUSU) turned out to the event in force. About three quarters of the way into the debate, Olivia Pace from PSUSU challenged Jeff Stone, Executive Director and CEO of the Oregon Association of Nurseries, on his assertion that President FDR never intended the minimum wage to be a living wage. Olivia then went on to challenge the assertion of Dr. Tom Potiowsky, chair of PSU’s Economics Department and former Oregon state economist, that poverty could be ended simply by ending discrimination.

Click here to see Olivia Pace of PSUSU challenge the debaters

After Olivia finished her exchange with Dr. Potiowsky, students and 15 Now activists temporarily disrupted the event with a mic check, explaining that the University wastes millions of dollars while refusing to pay low-wage workers on campus a $15 per hour wage, and highlighting groups of workers on campus that make less than $15.

Click here to see video of the mic check

debate2When the mic check ended the debate resumed as normal. At the end of the televised portion of the event, Ramon Ramirez, president of PCUN, Oregon’s farmworkers union, got a chance to tell the story of six farmworkers who were standing there next to him. They pick hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of high end shiitake mushrooms, make minimum wage, and got fired this past Sunday for asking for a 20 cent per hour raise.

Unfortunately, the whole story did not get to be told on air. The moderator of the event cut Ramon off to end the live broadcast. ThisDebate1 upset many members of the audience, who called out for the moderator to let Ramon finish his story. When the moderator insisted, members of the audience, led by students, erupted into a chant of “15 Now” that took over the last 15 seconds of the live broadcast.

Here is the entire broadcast in full:

World Homeless Day – $15 and the Fight Against Houslessness

This past Saturday was World Homeless Day, and it was also the birthday of Right 2 Dream Too, the well maintained and self-managed tent city in downtown Portland that has done more for the houseless community in four years, and done it with way fewer resources, than the City’s 10 Year Plan and millions of dollars spent could ever claim. It seems appropriate then to take a look at houselessness in Oregon and ask what a statewide $15 minimum wage would do to help alleviate the problem.

According to the most recent point-in-time count, on any given night there are some 4,000 houseless men, women, and children sleeping on the streets of Portland. Even more startling is that according to a 2013 report there are 38,000 children throughout Oregon who are considered homeless. That’s the fifth highest rate of child homelessness in the country.

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New Seasons and Other Businesses Push for Higher Minimum Wage

New Seasons Market announced that it will raise the minimum starting wage at all of its stores to $12 per hour in January 2016, a $2 increase from their current base pay of $10 per hour. ¿Por Qué No? Taqueria in Portland also announced that they are raising their minimum wage to $12.50 in January 2016, and will increase that to $15 by 2021.

According to a press release sent out yesterday, New Seasons is working with a number of other businesses to call “for state elected leaders to take action in 2016 on a minimum wage policy that meets the needs of Oregon’s diverse communities.” Among those other businesses are Grand Central Bakery, HOTLIPS Pizza, Looptworks, Neil Kelly, ¿Por Qué No?, The Joinery, Better World Club, Morel Ink, Chef’s Table, FMYI, and Grain & Gristle.

New Season’s CEO Wendy Collie stated, “The wage that supports self-sufficiency in urban areas such as Portland could be $15 per hour, while the differences in cost of living in rural communities could make the same wage unsustainable.”

We applaud New Seasons and these other businesses for committing to raising wages, for actively supporting the work to change state policy on the minimum wage, and for recognizing the need for $15 in Portland.  However, while we agree that Oregon communities are diverse in terms of cost of living, we wish to emphasize that $15 is not just what is needed in Portland, but rather what is need throughout our entire state.

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In a Renter State of Emergency, Stagnating Wages Mean Bold Action Needed Now

Portland Area Campaign Aims to Raise Wages to $15/h for 30,000 workers by 2017; Statewide Ballot Measure Would Raise Minimum Wage to $15/h by 2020.

Portland, OR — Yesterday, the Bureau of Labor and Industry announced that there would be no minimum wage increase on January 1, 2016. This announcement came despite the fact that prices in Portland continue to climb at a rate that is unsustainable for hundreds of thousands of struggling low-wage workers in the Portland area. This comes on the heel of a declaration of a Renter State of Emergency on Tuesday by the Community Alliance of Tenants, a local renters’ rights organization.

Working people are struggling to pay for school and pay off student debt, toiling to keep up with increasing child care costs and medical expenses. In the first half of 2015 alone food prices in the Portland area increased by about 4%, and according to a new report by Axiometrics, rent in Portland increased by 15% over the past year, the highest rental inflation rate in the nation.

“The fact that there won’t be any minimum wage increase in January only highlights the need to put $15 on the ballot,” says Jamie Partridge, chief petitioner for the Oregonians for 15 ballot measure effort, which will be launching its petition effort with a statewide day of signature gathering on September 26th. “No one who works should live in poverty, and the rent isn’t going to stop going up just because wages are stagnant. Oregon needs $15.”

But the Portland Campaign for $15 isn’t waiting for the legislature or for ballot measures. The campaign is made up of a coalition of local unions, faith and community organizations that are working together to raise wages for workers to $15 now.

“Jobs with Justice and 15 Now PDX are working with unions and community groups to raise wages to $15 for at least 30,000 low-wage workers in Portland by 2017 through contract bargaining, new organizing campaigns, and voluntary commitments from faith organizations, community-based organizations, and small businesses,” says Diana Pei Wu. Wu is a chief petitioner for the $15 ballot measure, as well as Executive Director for Portland Jobs with Justice, which is leading the Portland Campaign for $15 coalition. “Working families in Portland can’t wait for legislators to broker deals, or for an election that is a year away. Workers need a raise now. They need $15 now. And that’s what we are winning, together.”

Sign the Petition to Put $15 on Oregon’s Ballot


When it became clear that last April Oregon’s state legislature was not going to pass a minimum wage increase, Oregonians for 15—a coalition of labor unions, community groups, faith organizations, and small businesses—filed to put $15 on the ballot.

On Saturday September 26, 2015 volunteers in over 20 cities across the State of Oregon collected thousands of signatures as part of a kick off day of action for the signature gathering campaign. But you don’t have to run across someone on the street to sign the petition. You can also download it right in your home and sign it from your comfy chair!

Click Here to download and sign the petition to put a $15 minimum wage on Oregon’s November 2016 ballot!

New Portland Restaurants Prove Paying $15 Doesn’t Have to mean Higher Prices

During a recent conversation about the cost of living in Oregon and raising the minimum wage, a representative from an Oregon business lobby asserted that a $15 minimum wage won’t make any difference. After all prices will simply go up across the board, wiping out any newfound buying power that low-wage workers might have thought they would have. It’s a forgone conclusion!

As an example he used Ivar’s Seafood Bar, a Seattle-area restaurant chain that started paying $15 per hour ahead of the scheduled phase in period that will last for the next 6 years. It also eliminated the social obligation to tip by increasing prices by about 20% and distributing that among the employees.

So yes, Ivar’s did raise its prices, but it raised its prices by the amount one would tip, as an alternative to socially obligated tipping. You’re paying about the same as if you would have tipped, and the workers are still getting a share of that price increase, as they would if it were a tip. The price increase was about the elimination of socially obligated tipping, not about compensating for the increase in the workers’ base pay to $15 per hour.

But aside from the clearly flawed example used by the business lobbyist, we’d like to point out the absurdity of the assumption that raising the minimum wage to $15 necessitates price increases.

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End Poverty Wages