The $15 wage discussion keeps creeping wider and wider.
Just three weeks after Mayor Charlie Hales unveiled a proposal to ensure every full-time city employee makes at least that much (a change that's not as monumental as it sounded at the time), Amanda Fritz has now partially reversed course on her stance toward a $15 minimum.
Fritz, who oversees the parks bureau and so the majority of the city's lowest-paid employees, has said for months she wants to create more full-time positions with benefits more than she wants to increase the minimum wage. But in the midst of a wonky, tangled conversation around upping the pay for city contract workers this afternoon, the commissioner adjusted her stance, announcing she'll make a budget request to bump maintenance workers up to $15.
The proposal came as a surprise to some advocates with 15 Now PDX, the group that's been pressing for a raise to the city's (and state's) minimum wage for months. The group's pressure (along with Jobs With Justice) is a key reason Portland leaders having the discussion. It got momentum from the upstart campaign of Nick Caleb, who ran against Commissioner Dan Saltzman last year on a platform that leaned heavily on the wage issues.
Exactly what Fritz's surprise proposal might cost was immediately unclear. But a mayoral staffer said there'd been indications for weeks Fritz might make such a proposal, and that early forecasts showed the raises are workable.
Meanwhile, costs associated with more immediate changes were laid out for the first time that I've seen (repeated requests to various city staffers last week turned up no answer).
Hales' proposal to raise full-time workers up to $15 would cost only about $47,000. But it could rise as high as $90,000 once more-senior employees making slightly higher salaries get bumps in the name of fairness, city HR Director Anna Kanwit said. We reported in this week's issue only 16 full-timers made less than $15 last year, and most of them made only slightly less.
The other wage bump commissioners are discussing—to raise the wages of 157 janitors, parking attendants and other service workers who contract with the city—is expected to cost $900,000 to $1 million, according to Portland's Office of Management and Finance (OMF). It's unclear how relevant those numbers are, though, given an amendment from Fritz stipulating the raise should apply only to full-time contract employees.
A lot's unclear, actually. City council seemed unanimous that there needs to be further study about the nearly 2,000 part-time and seasonal city workers (detailed here!) who make less than $15, but could come to little agreement about who should lead that effort, and who should be involved. Fritz scotched a provision that would mandate the HR bureau to conduct that study (Kanwit says they're too busy, at present) and proposed that the Parks commissioner (her) should lead. Fritz pointed to her good work around paid sick leave, and said she had a track record getting things done.
But her suggestions inspired a tart-sounding retort from Commissioner Nick Fish, who noted: "The last time I checked the charter, the mayor decides the parks commissioner. There’s no guarantee you’ll be parks commissioner tomorrow." (Fish took pains to indicate he agreed with the need for further study.)
And even with the central change bandied about today—an increase to the wage mandated in Portland's Fair Wage Policy—it's unclear who's affected. The uptick could affect the Clean and Safe employees who clean up and patrol downtown, as well as contract workers who patrol the transit mall, but city finance staffers weren't sure who'd be on the hook to pay for those raises.
There was no shortage of repetitive testimony today, but also very powerful accounts from seasonal parks workers, allowed to work a maximum of 1,200 hours a year, and reliant on food stamps and medicaid.
"I ration my 1,200 hours and, like many others, I'm living in poverty," said a woman named Sarah (Sara?) a 5-year parks employee. "I struggle to feed myself. I currently depend on food stamps and I have sought the help of food pantries."
And then there was this great video from Laborers' Local 483.
But as far as this discussion has crept, there's no immediate indication city council's willing to pay all the city's 10,500 workers $15. Mayor Charlie Hales and other commissioners have said they want to look more fully at that tweak, but there's also a notion—frequently trumpeted with great hyperbole by opponents of the wage hike—that not all jobs the city offers should pay $15.
"Some jobs in our community really are starter jobs," Fritz said today. "There are truly seasonal aquatic instructors in parks who in their college summers come back here because they love being in parks. It's important to continue to have some jobs that are starter jobs."
As we've reported, informal city estimates suggest it would cost roughly $4 million a year to bring all city workers—seasonal, part-time, and full-time—up to $15.
(The city is relatively flush right now, with an estimated $4.6 million extra in ongoing money going forward, and more in one-time money.)
As context for this, by the way, consider: Multnomah County is making everyone look bad. The county, which has less employees to deal with, took steps last year that will bump up all workers (except interns) to $15 or higher within a couple years.
Update, 4:57 pm: Fritz wanted to vote on the resolution—with her amendments—at a later date, so staff could work out verbiage. But Saltzman, Fish, and Hales say the resolution only sets the city's policy, not the nitty gritty details. That can be worked out later, they say.
So it passes! 5-0! Portland's leaders say we need to pay full-time workers and full-time contractors at least $15 beginning July 1 (the start of the next budget year).
A lot of people who spoke today demanded more. City leaders demanded more, and have now appeared to embrace that $15 is the baseline Portland should work from.
"The people who most need it are not getting it under this resolution," Fritz said before her yes vote.
And more may come. This is a start. As Fish noted, regarding the funding challenge: "We had no way to pay for a Portland-Milwaukie light rail, and we funded it."