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.