OF THE SEVERAL proposals Mayor Charlie Hales unveiled in his State of the City address on January 30, one generated the most headlines by far: Hales wants to make sure every full-time city employee is paid at least $15 an hour.
"It's the right thing to do," Hales said—signaling that Portland might emulate Multnomah County, which recently committed to paying everyone but interns at least $15.
But it turns out the mayor's attention-grabbing suggestion isn't much of a change. Records obtained by the Mercury show just 16 full-time city employees (out of about 7,940) earned less than $15 an hour in 2014. And most of them weren't far off.
According to the Portland Bureau of Human Resources, 10 of those employees made more than $14 an hour. Six earned more than $14.70. Just one employee, a recreation coordinator working for the parks bureau, earned less than $13.90 last year.
The data could be seen as proof the city already pays its workers well, but full-time employees are far from the total picture. As the Mercury's reported, more than a sixth of the city's total employees—roughly 1,840—earn less than $15 an hour, once seasonal and part-time workers are figured in ["Starting at the Bottom," News, Jan 7]. Those workers overwhelmingly work for the parks bureau, and nearly 75 percent of them make less than $12.
Happily, there are greater changes afoot than Hales' new proposal.
For months—partly at the behest of Commissioner Dan Saltzman—officials have weighed amending Portland's "fair wage" policy to pay roughly 150 contract workers at least $15. Portland City Council was scheduled to take up that resolution on Wednesday, February 18.
The amendment also would require the city to study what its part-time and seasonal employees should be paid, while acknowledging $15 as an important benchmark.
"Continuing research and evidence is showing that an hourly pay of $15 provides a minimum level of compensation that allows employees and their families to live outside low-wage conditions," the resolution reads.
Thanks to state law, Portland officials can't set a minimum wage for the city. We're stuck, with the rest of the state, at $9.25. The city, of course, can pay its own workers what it sees fit. Staffers have estimated bringing everyone up to a $15 minimum could cost as much as $4 million a year.
Given its narrow scope (the city couldn't provide a cost estimate for raising the wage of the 16 full-time workers by press time), Hales' proposal faces little adversity.
Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz has said in the past that she'd oppose a minimum wage increase, favoring creating more full-time positions instead. But Fritz says she's fine with bringing full-time workers up to $15.
What Fritz is not okay with is the proposed raise for 157 contract workers, which she says would result in part-time contractors being paid better than the hundreds upon hundreds of part-timers struggling within her bureau.
Fritz says she plans to introduce an amendment that stipulates only full-time contract workers earn $15. She'll also suggest eliminating the requirement to study what seasonal city employees should be paid.
"How hard do we have to study," Fritz says, "to understand that we're underpaying our workers?"