Portland's minimum wage: $15-an-hour advocates see victory, push for more – OregonLive.com
The Portland City Council could amend the city’s Fair Wage Policy on Wednesday to guarantee that 175 full-time city contractors and employees are paid at least $15 an hour.
The vote comes less than a month after Mayor Charlie Hales made the $15 minimum a centerpiece of his third annual State of the City address. In his speech, Hales called the policy, which could cost the city up to $1.2 million a year, “the right thing to do.”
If Portland passes the proposal, it will join Multnomah County and Home Forward as other metro agencies to approve $15 minimum wages for all full-time employees. Hales and Commissioner Dan Saltzman are co-sponsoring the resolution. Fewer than 20 full-time city employees currently earn less than $15 an hour.
When: 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 17
What: public hearing and vote on $15 minimum wage proposal
Where: Portland City Hall, City Council Chambers
If the city goes ahead, the decision would mark another victory for minimum-wage advocates, who spent the past year pushing local agencies to raise their wages. They’re part of a national push with high-profile successes in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
For Portland’s service contractors, the policy change amounts to a $2.70 an hour raise, according to city documents. The wages would go into effect in July.
Multnomah County’s plan affects 151 employees, primarily in the library. Home Forward’s change affects 30 staffers.
Advocates are looking for bigger gains and are lobbying Salem lawmakers to raise Oregon’s $9.25 minimum wage, which is one of the highest in the country. They’re also pushing to remove a state law that prevents cities from setting their own minimum wages. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
Both advocates and city officials say the proposal is a good first step.
“We support what the mayor is trying to do,” said Justin Norton-Kertson, co-founder of 15 Now PDX, “But it clearly falls short of raising [to] 15 for everyone.”
The proposal applies to parking attendants, janitorial staff and security personnel. The plan doesn’t apply to staff at Providence Park. Converting those contract employees to $15 an hour would cost an additional $200,000 a year, according to city finance staff.
Some 1,800 seasonal or part-time city employees also won’t be affected by the proposal. Raising the wages for those workers would cost an estimated $3.1 million a year, according to Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the Parks Bureau.
Fair Wage Policy: Who is included?
Garage security: 11 positions, $75,000
Garage operations: 50 positions, $185,000
Janitors: 56 positions, $500,000
Office security: 40 positions, $110,000
(Source: City of Portland, costs are estimates, figures don’t include full-time workers converted)
“I still would prefer to direct more money to my employees, our city employees,” Fritz said Tuesday. “But I very much support our City Hall janitors and custodian staff.”
Fritz said she doesn’t like referring to those workers as seasonal, noting that dozens of parks employees are part time in name only and work up to 1,200 hours a year.
Fritz is requesting more money in the 2015-16 fiscal year budget to convert additional part-time parks rangers and maintenance workers to full-time positions.
Dana Haynes, Hales’ spokesman, said Hales started looking into ways to raise the minimum wage for staffers thanks to “a wide array” of outside influences, including pressure from unions, increases in other cities, and the 15 Now PDX organizers.
Haynes said the group made “pretty good, pretty sound and pretty heartfelt arguments” in favor of raising the wage. Hales also signed onto a U.S. Conference of Mayors’ proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour last year.
Norton-Kerston said the movement is riding some momentum, and he said it was “almost inevitable” Portland would take action.
One of the important takeaways of the past year of lobbying City Hall, he added, was the success of City Council candidate Nick Caleb in bringing the $15 proposal to elected officials’ attention.
Caleb, an adjunct professor at Concordia University and lawyer who works for a Portland nonprofit, ran against Saltzman last May and received 19 percent of the vote.
He credited organizers including Norton-Kerston for pushing the issue regionally. “The city does have the power to do quite a bit for low-wage workers and people that are struggling,” he added, saying the City Council will be pushed on other issues such as affordable housing.
Rob Wheaton, AFSCME Local 189 representative for the city’s workers, agreed that Wednesday’s vote could be a nice first step.
“We really appreciate what’s being done for working people in Oregon,” Wheaton said.
But he said many city contractors who are funded by grants wouldn’t be included in the proposal.
Norton-Kerston said he expects a packed council chamber for the 2 p.m. public hearing and vote on Wednesday.
— Andrew Theen