City of Portland contract workers get raise as part of 'Living Wage' drive

In a 4-0, vote the Portland City Council decided Aug. 25 to raise the wage and benefit floor from $8 to $9.50 per hour for some 200 janitors, security guards, parking attendants and part-time clericals employed by private city contractors.

The ordinance also provides language which tightens enforcement and bars employer interference with worker organizing.

"According to Madeline Wessell of the city attorney's office, we understand that workers may organize themselves to file complaints based on violations of the ordinance, whether with a city bureau or in court," said Dave Mazza, a spokesman for Jobs With Justice, a community/labor coalition that has guided the local living wage campaign for the past five years.

The new code explicitly bars retaliation against whistle-blowers, requires monthly reporting of wages and benefits, and posting of the living wage rules at job sites, Mazza said.

Workers covered by the code, which updates the City Fair Wage Policy first established in 1996, will have a choice of taking the minimum compensation of $9.50 per hour all as wages or up to $1.50 as paid leave or payment towards life or health insurance or retirement.

The $9.50 hourly compensation remains below the living wage minimum of $13.98, necessary for an adult with one elementary school age child living in the city, according to a 1999 Northwest Job Gap study of the the Northwest Policy Center at the University of Washington.

Although not mentioned in the Aug. 25 hearing, Mazza said living wage advocates have been assured by city commissioners that the operating agreement between the City of Portland and Portland Family Entertainment includes extension of this and subsequent fair wage policies to the Civic Stadium (PGE Park) operation.

Jamie Partridge, a coordinator for the Living Wage Campaign and a member of Letter Carriers Branch 82, said it was pressure from unions such as AFSCME Local 189, Service Employees Local 49 and Theatrical and Stage Employees "that made this happen" for contract workers.

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