by Justin Norton-Kertson
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.
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.
“Working people are becoming increasingly impatient with legislators’ inability to act” said 15 Now Oregon member and chief petitioner Jamie Partridge. “If the legislature won’t do the right thing, then we’ll take $15 to a vote of the people.” Other chief petitioners for the initiative are Marcy Westerling, founder of the Rural Organizing Project, and Ramon Ramirez, president of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United).
by Justin Norton-Kertson
On Monday evening at the Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem, community groups, labor unions, low-wage workers, and activists from throughout the state flooded the committee hearing room and spilled into overflow rooms to express strong support for a bill that would raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over three years.
Seattle and San Francisco both approved a minimum wage of $15 last year, and Oregon would be the first state to follow suit. At a press conference before the hearing, 15 Now Oregon representatives announced plans to file for a ballot measure this week, and to begin collecting signatures to qualify for the 2016 election.
Supporters of a $15 minimum wage urged legislators to initiate a floor vote on SB 610, and expressed concern that big business lobbyists were working behind the scenes to kill the bill. Dozens wore red T-shirts while hundreds more wore green buttons, all emblazoned with the 15 Now Oregon logo.
Temporary workers represented by AFSCME Local 3580 won huge wage raises in their first negotiated contract this week. All those represented will get cost of living adjustments. Hazardous waste workers get a raise from $13.55 per hour to a minimum wage of $17.50 per hour. Zoo security wages go from $12 to a $15.75 minimum. Scale House workers also jumpy to a $15.75 minimum wage, and Program Animals workers at the Zoo jump to a minimum wage of $16.01.
These are huge gains and we congratulate the affected workers and the union representatives who fought for them at the bargaining table on huge victory.
A statement from AFSCME reads:
“After over three months of bargaining we have finally released an agreement. while not perfect, we feel we made some great gains, especially to wages. Big thanks to our Members, Jobs With Justice, and 15 Now for the support. Also, Metro management deserves credit for making positive movement that will help workers and the community for a long time.”
While this is a great victory for more workers, a victory that helps us gain momentum to build and win $15 for even more working people in Portland and across Oregon, we must recognize it as just that, a start. Portland Metro now joins Multnomah County and the City of Portland in not only recognizing, but in acting on the fact that anything less than $15 is not enough in the Portland area. We call on Metro Council to take further action to ensure that all Metro workers have at least a $15 minimum wage and a clear and unobstructed path to unionization regardless of their particular employment classification.
No one who works should live in poverty.
In the weeks running up to Portland City Council’s unanimous vote to increase the city’s Fair Wage Policy to $15 per hour, as well as for full-time, permanent city workers, Mayor Hales justified the decision to leave out some 2,000 “casual” Parks Department workers by quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” The implication being that if the city could afford to raise those workers to $15 right now too, they would do it. The other implication of course being that the city can’t afford to do it.
Even at the time the statement was made it wasn’t necessarily true. The cost of raising “casual” (part-time, temporary, and seasonal) city workers to $15 has been estimated at around $3 million annually. At the same time, as early as September of last year the city was projected to have a surplus of $9.3 million in one-time spending, and $4.6 million in on-going funds. In December the one-time spending surplus was revised up to $14.4 million.
Today, a new set of revised numbers was released showing that the city is actually likely to have a surplus of “$19.6 million in one-time resources and $11.5 million in on-going money to spend.”
Even if we assume it would cost $4 million to raise all “causal” parks workers to a $15 per hour minimum wage, the city is projected to have almost three times that in on-going money to spend.
We applaud Mayor Hales and the city council for their action on the Fair Wage Policy and on full-time, permanent city workers. But what is now clear is that where we are right now is sitting on huge budget surplus that provides more than enough money to pay all city workers $15 now, still leaving some $6 million in on-going and almost $20 million in one-time spending money available for other uses like road maintenance and expanding the $15 Fair Wage Policy even further.
Our tax dollars should not be used to pay poverty wages. It is unethical and it sends the message that the city does not value it’s employees and the work that they do to keep this city running. We have the opportunity and the means, right now in this next budget cycle, to ensure that everyone who works for the city either directly or indirectly is paid $15 Now.
We call on Mayor Hales and city council to use this continually-growing surplus to raise all city workers wages to $15 Now, to create more full-time union jobs with benefits in the parks department, and to expand the Fair Wage Policy to include grantees, stadium workers, Rose Quarter workers, and others who work for companies and non-profit organizations that get funding from the city. We can afford to do this with what we have, where we are, right now.
There are no more excuses. Portland needs $15 Now.
A bill has been introduced by Oregon House Representative Cedric Hayden (R – District 7) that would reduce the the minimum wage for many workers in Oregon, potentially down to the level of the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour.
HB 3325 would allow a minimum wage worker’s total compensation to count as their total hourly pay. Total compensation means the total amount of money an employer puts towards a worker’s employment, including both hourly wages and any benefits offered by the employer.
What this means at the most basic level is that if an employer pays $1 into an employee’s health insurance benefit for every hour that employee works, then the employer would be allowed to pay the employee only $8.25 in hourly wages. Add the $1 in health benefit and the employee’s total compensation would be $9.25 per hour, which is Oregon’s current minimum wage.
If passed, HB 3325 would allow employers to count not only health insurance, but also retirement benefits toward the total compensation minimum wage. Also, in anticipation of the passage of a statewide paid sick leave law, the bill would allow employers to count paid sick days toward the minimum wage. Even if the statewide paid sick leave bill fails, workers in Portland and Eugene (both of which have passed citywide paid sick leave ordinances) would see their hourly wage reduced by the amount they are paid for days off of work when they are sick.
For working Oregonians who are already paid poverty wages by their employers, hourly wages will be reduced even further. In fact hourly wages could be reduced as low as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
“provided that the amount of compensation payable in legal tender that is subject to deductions, charges or allowances is not lower than the federal minimum wage, as established under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.”
$9.25 is not enough in Oregon, it is a poverty wage in our state. $7.25 will drive hundreds of thousands of working Oregonians and their families even further into poverty. People will no longer be able to afford their rent, and they will be forced to incur the costs and stress of relocating, which will potentially make worker commutes even longer and more expensive. More working people in Oregon will have to rely on public benefits at an even greater cost than the more than $1.7 billion per year Oregon taxpayers already pay to subsidize the poverty wages paid by large multi-billion dollar corporations like Walmart and McDonalds.
But this bill is not only meant to reduce hourly wages for the most vulnerable working people, those who are already at the bottom of the wage scale. It is also designed to completely negate the paid sick leave ordinances in Portland and Eugene, as well as any potential statewide sick leave bill that may be passed into law. If HB 3325 passes, workers will in effect lose their pad sick time because the money they will be getting paid on a sick day off is actually be taken from their hourly wage during the rest of the year. Not only does the employer get forgo the cost of paying for sick days, but workers actually lose the benefit of getting paid and not falling behind in their budget when they have to stay home sick.
This is an underhanded, pro-big business bill that has to be stopped. We are likely to see other bills introduced in the coming days and weeks that will allow things such as tip-credits, training wages, and other pro-big business, wage-lowering schemes.
Low-wage workers, unions, community organizations, and other concerned Oregonians need to come together to fight the lowering of wages and the lower of standards of living in our state. We must prevent Democrats from passing bills like this as a “compromise” to gain Republican votes and big business acuquiecense on paid sick leave or minimum wage bills. After all, Democrats in Oregon have majorities in both houses. They don’t need Republican votes, and they don’t need big business approval. We must stop this bill and any others that seek to push working families in Oregon further into poverty for the sake of putting more money into the hands of already wealthy business owners, corporate CEOs, and shareholders.
Unite with us! Join 15 Now or make a donation to the campaign to help us not only stop this wage-lowering bill, but to help us raise Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Because no one who works should live in poverty!
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!
)Compiled and first published by the Oregon Center for Public Policy)
Raising Oregon’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018, a proposal currently before the legislature, would constitute great progress for Oregon working families.
Here are preliminary estimates of the impact of the proposed raise:
Number of workers helped: By 2018, about 589,000 workers would likely see their wages rise directly as a result of the increase. At the same time, another 114,000 workers earning above $15 would also likely see their wages increase indirectly as employers adjust overall pay ladders.
Total wages gains: As a group, workers benefiting directly and indirectly from the increase would gain about $3.2 billion in additional wages during the three-year implementation period.
Workers’ gains: The gains of particular workers due to raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would depend, of course, on their current hourly wage and number of hours worked. At the high end of the range, Oregonians currently earning the minimum wage of $9.25 and working 35 hours per week would gain $10,465 in yearly income, or $872 per month, assuming their work hours stay the same.
Families with children helped: About a third of all workers directly benefiting from the increase have children. Among all single-parent workers in the state, almost half (47 percent) would experience wage gains directly as a result of the minimum wage increase.
Age of workers helped: Among workers directly affected by the increase, about 93 percent would be 20 years or older. About three-quarters (74 percent) would be 25 years of age or older. About two out of five (39 percent) would be 40 years of age or older.
Gender of workers helped: Among workers directly affected by the increase, about 53 percent would be women and 47 percent would be men.
Full-time workers helped: About 61 percent of workers who would gain a raise would be full-time workers, defined as 35 hours or more worked per week. Another 30 percent of those helped would be Oregonians working between 20 and 34 hours per week.
College-educated helped: Among those directly affected by the increase, about 55 percent would have at least some college education. About 16 percent would have a college degree or higher.
 HB 2009 would raise Oregon’s minimum wage from the current $9.25 to $15 hour in three steps: $11.50 in 2016, $13.25 in 2017, and $15 in 2018.
 Unless otherwise noted, these estimates come from analysis by the Economic Policy Institute of Current Population Survey, Outgoing Rotation Group public use microdata, 2013Q4-2014Q3.
 Directly affected workers would see their wages rise because the new minimum wage rate would exceed their current hourly pay.
 Indirectly affected workers are those whose wages are not far above the proposed new minimum wage. They would receive a raise as employer s adjust pay scales upward in response to the new minimum wage.
 OCPP analysis.
After reading the Oregonian Editorial Board’s response to Mayor Hales’ plan to raise contract workers and some city workers up to $15 per hour in wages, we are disappointed by the inconsistency and false choices inherent in their argument.
The Editorial Board laments the cost and economic consequences of spending $600,000 to $1 million to start increasing wages up to $15 per hour, but no mention is made of any potential negative consequences of using the same amount of money of create more full-time jobs in the parks department. Perhaps because there are no negative consequences to either. Perhaps because it is common knowledge that higher wages and more full-time jobs are good for a local economy and necessary for healthy communities.
As the only piece of evidence of the negative consequences of raising wages, the Editorial Board references a study of a hypothetical situation. It makes more sense to point to the many studies of actual, real wage raises that show no discernible effect on employment and that higher wages are actually good for business.
But the biggest problem with the Editorial Board’s argument is that it creates a false choice. It laments raising wages while it seemingly champions Commissioner Fritz’s proposal to create more full-time union jobs in the parks department. We reject this false choice.
We need to do both. We can do both.
The whole State of Oregon needs a $15 minimum wage. It is the minimum that a person needs in our state to afford adequate housing, food, health insurance and stay off public assistance. If you have children then even $15 is not really enough. In Portland, our city council only has the authority to raise wages for contract workers and city workers. The state preemption law preventing Portland from raising its minimum wage for everyone needs to be repealed. In the meantime Portland’s contract workers and all city workers need a raise to $15, and they need it now.
While his plan does not include $15 for seasonal and part-time city workers, Mayor Hales is doing the right thing by beginning the process of raising wages to $15 and we support him in this. But his plan leaves out all but about 10 city workers. And Commissioner Fritz is also right, city workers in the parks department need more full-time union jobs with benefits. We support Mayor Hales’ proposal while insisting that the process of creating more full-time union jobs and a $15 minimum wage for all seasonal and part-time city workers begin at once.
We need to do both. We can do both.
For too long the city has relied on part-time, casual, seasonal workers, particularly within the parks department. Without having to pay decent wages, full-time hours, or benefits the city saves money, but it leaves its employees living in poverty.
All of the other departments have benefitted from this unethical over-reliance on a contingent workforce within the parks department. Commissioner Fritz is trying to end that by creating more full-time jobs. It’s time to make it happen.
As pointed out in a recent article by The Oregonian’s Andrew Theen, the City is projected to have $14 million in one-time available spending for the next fiscal year, as well as $4.6 million in available ongoing funds. Not to mention that the general fund budget is about a half a billion dollars.
There is plenty of money to raise wages for all contract and city workers to $15 and create a lot more full-time union jobs with benefits in the parks department. It is not a matter of whether or not we can afford it. It is not a matter of either/or. It is a matter of whether or not we value city employees enough to make their well being a bigger budget priority.
Our tax dollars should not be used to pay poverty wages. No one who works should live in poverty. We believe that our city commissioners hold this value. Now let’s come together and finally make $15 and full-time union jobs a priority for all those who work for our city.
(This article was intended for publication in the Oregonian as the official response to the Editorial Board from 15 Now PDX. However, the Oregonian is not returning our calls and has failed to publish our response in a timely manner. So we have published our response here.)
Come to the hearing for a $15 Fair Wage Policy at City Hall, Wednesday February 18 at 2pm. Sign up to testify and speak out in favor of $15 for Portland Janitors, security guards, parking lot attendants, concessions workers and more!