Should taxpayer money go to the creation of poverty wage jobs? Should public dollars go to virulently anti-union companies? A resounding “no” was the answer in Portland, Ore. when 85 workers at the Parry Center, a residential care facility providing direct care to children with severe mental illness, won a two-month strike. Putting an end to high staff turnover by improving wages and protecting their voice at work were the workers’ most important issues.
Working with the children is clearly a labor of love for the caregivers, who are members of SEIU Local 503. Although they are required to have a four-year college degree, their top pay rate is less than $10 an hour, says a fact sheet distributed by the union. Meanwhile, Portland Jobs with Justice points out, Robert Roy, chief executive of the Parry center, received a raise of $24,000 last year, more than the entire yearly wage of one of the workers.
The strike was punctuated by spirited mass actions, culminating in a sit-in by 150 strikers and their supporters and the arrest of 13. Community supporters had walked the picketline with strikers, donated food, and helped lobby public officials, Local 503 reported. Other union locals even picked up the tab for health insurance for strikers, according to JwJ.
Trillium Family Services, which runs the Parry Center, receives 90 percent of its funding from taxpayer dollars, JwJ reported. It had demanded the workers accept a three-year wage freeze. When they refused and went on strike, management permanently replaced the workers. However, through the agreement, all workers will return to their jobs, maintain full-paid health insurance benefits and receive wage increases for each of the three years of the contract. During the strike, Multnomah County Commissioners passed a resolution requiring contractors who receive county funds to remain neutral when employees try to form a union.