Inspired by a national protest movement for a $15-an-hour wage for fast food workers, some local unions have begun talking about a $15 wage floor for their own least-paid members.
On Oct. 31, AFSCME Local 3135 and Laborers Local 296 became the first unions in the Portland area to put $15 into their union contracts — thanks to a proposal from Michael Buonocore, the new executive director at Home Forward. Home Forward, formerly known as Housing Authority of Portland, is the federally-funded public corporation that administers public housing and Section 8 programs locally.
At Buonoacore’s instigation, a new memorandum of agreement adds to the existing union contracts a wage guarantee of at least $15 an hour effective Dec. 1, 2014. That means raises of $0.31 to $4 an hour for the 33 least-paid Home Forward workers, including maintenance workers, office assistants, resident specialists and program interns — about 10 of AFSCME Local 3135’s 150 members, and about 20 of Local 296’s 36 members.
In an email announcing the agreement, Home Forward executive director Michael Buonocore said the additional cost of $76,000 a year will be absorbed within Home Forward’s administrative budget without any impact to the agency’s programs.
Home Forward Local 3135 president Elyse Alexander said union members earlier this year argued for $15 at a meeting of the Home Forward board, pointing out that some employees are paid so little they can sign up for subsidized housing under the same program they administer.
“For people jumping from $12.55 to $15, that’s a life-changing wage increase,” said Oregon AFSCME president Jeff Klatke in a press statement. Klatke is an accountant at Home Forward. “We hope to lead by example, and are optimistic other local government agencies will follow suit.”
At press time, management negotiators for Multnomah County were considering a $15 an hour minimum wage contract proposal from AFSCME Local 88. If implemented, it would bring up wages for 160 county workers.
Earlier this year, Laborers Local 483 pushed for a $15 minimum that would have affected 330 workers at the Oregon Zoo, but the Metro regional government rejected that proposal.