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.
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 The state preemption law preventing Portland from raising its minimum wage for everyone needs to be repealed.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!
by Shamus Cooke and Justin Norton-Kertson
By proposing that Portland public employees and contract workers be paid $15 an hour, Mayor Charles Hales proved he is listening to the wave of voices demanding a $15 living wage.
A huge boost to the Fight for $15 in Portland and in the whole state of Oregon, the announcement comes almost a year after 15 Now PDX began a sustained grassroots movement to pressure Portland’s commissioners to start raising wages in the city to $15 an hour. For the past 6 months 15 Now PDX has engaged in a campaign to raise the Portland’s Fair Wage Policy to $15 an hour in wages plus $2.20 an hour in benefits. The Fair Wage Policy applies to the contract workers referred to in the Mayor’s proposal.
“This is a positive and important step forward in ensuring that in Portland no one who works lives in poverty. We commend Mayor Hales for moving forward on the Fair Wage Policy, and on raising the minimum wage to $15 for city workers” says Jamie Partridge, a 15 Now PDX volunteer who has been leading the Fair Wage Policy campaign. A public hearing on the Fair Wage Policy is set for City Hall on Wednesday, February 18 at 2pm.
At the same time, thousands of city workers in Portland remain left out by the Mayor’s proposal, since there are over over 1,800 part-time and seasonal city workers who work for less than $15 an hour and will not benefit from the proposal.
The Mayor tweeted: “Introducing a $15 Minimum Wage for all full time permanent employees”. The implication being that part-time and temporary employees will remain in poverty wages. But how poor exactly? And how few stand to benefit?
According to the Portland Mercury, nearly 60% of city workers earn less than $11 an hour. Virtually none of these workers will benefit from the Mayor’s proposal, since 97% of city workers who make under $15 are parks workers, and according to the Mercury, 99% of these parks workers are temporary or seasonal employees. Many of these so-called “seasonal” employees work year-round, provide vital services such as coordinating programs and approving scholarships, and are simply capped to 1200 or 1600 annual hours.
One such “seasonal” employee is Sarah Kowaleski. Kowaleski welcomed the Mayor’s proposal: “I commend the Mayor’s decisive action to lift full-time permanent, and contract workers minimum wage to $15, but none of my coworkers will benefit. Few full-time permanent employees make under $15. A more significant poverty-reduction strategy would be to also lift part time and seasonal staff wages to a $15 minimum.”
Although the Parks department has 97% of its workers making under $15 an hour, the Parks commissioner Amanda Fritz does not support raising the minimum wage for city workers to $15. Fritz has remained adamant that her priority is creating more full-time jobs for the parks department instead. Although a noble goal, we reject the false dichotomy of creating more full-time jobs versus paying seasonal workers $15 an hour. The city is capable of doing both.
The problem lies in the city’s unwillingness to prioritize jobs and wages. The city has succeeded in finding funding for high cost projects such as covering Mt Tabor’s reservoirs, for example. Where the city has the will, the city finds a way. Kowaleski has offered to help Fritz ask for more money for Parks & Rec. The question is whether or not the city values paying all its employees a living wage enough to find a way to make it happen.
If the Mayor is serious about paying a living wage, he should immediately make plans to ensure that every city worker earn $15 an hour. Kowaleski adds, “The face of the low-wage worker in Oregon is female, and in her thirties. This gives me pause.. this is me, and a number of my colleagues.” But this issue extends beyond the boundaries of city employment.
While the city is prohibited by state law from raising the Portland minimum wage to $15 for everyone who lives and works in the city, the Mayor and city council can still be strong advocates for the growing campaign for a statewide $15 minimum wage, where there is legislation in Salem that has 16 legislative sponsors. The almost 650,000 working Oregonians who earn below a $15 an hour living wage need the Portland City Council to be public champions of this larger statewide campaign.
Today’s proposal by the Mayor is good start we will fight for its passage, but it leaves out too many people. We have to keep fighting to ensure that everyone in Portland, that everyone in Oregon earns at least a $15 minimum wage. Because no one who works should live in poverty.
originally published in the Willamette Week.
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales used his third annual “State of the City” address to stump for economic equality—proposing reforms including a $15-an-hour minimum wage, stricter oversight of the city’s minority contracting program, and tax credits for companies that hire people with criminal records.
“We’re in a deeply stratified society,” Hales said. “The rich get richer, the poor stay poor. I believe there’s a better way: the Portland way.”
Hales pledged to make sure every full-time employee and subcontractor for the city will be paid $15 an hour in this year’s budget. Hales urged private business to copy that standard, which emerged as a political movement in Seattle last year and became the central plank of City Council candidate Nicholas Caleb.
“John Russell, a prominent local businessman, has just told me he’ll match the city’s $15-an-hour standard in his buildings,” Hales said. “I call on all business owners to do the same.”
For the first time, Walmart workers here in Oregon walked out on strike over Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Three workers at the Walmart in Klamath Falls walked out on Wednesday, and members of the community came out to the store to support them.
After Wednesday’s rally at their own store, the workers traveled to Medford and Portland where they participated in community rallies in support of them, and against Walmart’s unfair labor practices.
Here in Portland, the striking workers and a small group of supporters delivered a letter to the store’s management. The letter demands that the company end its illegal efforts to silence workers who are standing up for better jobs at the mega-retailer.
At one point, another small group of people marched through the store chanting “What are we gonna do? Fight For $15!” Outside the store, hundreds of supporters – including local residents, concerned taxpayers and community leaders – rallied and called on Walmart and its owners, the Waltons, to stop hurting families and commit to raise pay to a minimum of $15/hr and provide consistent, full-time work.
Speakers at the rally included the striking workers as well as representatives from Portland Jobs with Justice, 15 Now PDX, UFCW, and Oregon AFL-CIO. The speakers thanked the striking workers for their courage and determination, encouraged the community to stand behind them and fight with them, vowed to win $15 for all of Oregon, and drew parallels between the systemic problems of poverty, racism, and police violence.
Across the country, tens of thousands of people and thousands of Walmart workers from over 2,200 Walmart stores, including stores all over Oregon, have signed a petition demanding that Walmart raise wages to a minimum of $15/hr and give workers access to full-time hours. Nationwide, workers and supporters planned and engaged in 1,600 strikes and protests at Walmart stores on Black Friday.