Twenty-two workers at Free Geek, a local computer recycler, ratified their first union contract July 19.
Free Geek is a non-profit that refurbishes computers and gives them to low-income people in exchange for community service. The organization was founded in 2000 as a worker-managed collective, but as it grew, it began to add employees who were not members of the decision-making body. On Nov. 3, 2010 those workers voted to unionize with Communications Workers of America Local 7901.
The bargaining unit covers both full and part time permanent employees as well as temporary “apprentices” who work there from nine to 12 months. At Free Geek’s facility at 1731 SE 10th Ave. in Portland, bargaining unit members work with volunteers, rebuild computers, and disassemble old electronics equipment to recycle dangerous chemicals and heavy metals.
After seven months of negotiations, both union members and the management collective unanimously approved a two-year union contract that provides immediate pay raises of $0.05 to $0.50 an hour. Wages start at $11.55 an hour and rise to $12.55 over time under the new contract. The two sides will bargain again over the wage scale for the second year.
The contract also gives workers paid holidays and paid vacation for the first time, and health benefits for those working at least 24 hours a week. Workers start out with one week paid vacation a year, which rises to three and a half weeks after seven years. Employer-paid employee-only health insurance, which was offered only to full-time permanent employees, now will be offered to all employees working more than 24 hours a week. Employees will contribute roughly $7 to $35 a month toward the premium, depending on the number of hours worked.