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

by Justin Norton-Kertson

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.

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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.