SALEM, Ore. — Hardworking and tenacious homecare workers represented by Service Employees Local 503, Oregon Public Employees Union, have won significant improvements to wages, benefits and working conditions. They settled their 2007-2009 contract Aug. 30 after two days of mediation.

All hourly homecare workers will see a wage increase to $9.90 on Nov. 1 and to $10.20 next July 1. Live-in workers will see increases for 24-hour availability and self-management tasks. They will earn $165 (effective Nov. 1) and $175 (next July 1) per 24-hour shift.

The workers retained fully paid health coverage for themselves and some dependents.

Also, workers will now be able to cash out some or all unused paid time off (PTO) once a year. Last year workers lost over 80 percent of PTO hours they had earned, so being able to cash out will be a significant economic benefit.

A training program will continue to raise the quality of the in-home program for both consumer/employers and workers.

The workers also won increases in service-related mileage compensation.

The bargaining team unanimously recommended a yes vote on the contract.

This victory came as state higher education workers, also represented by Local 503, voted virtually unanimously to approve a contract giving 6.2 percent wage increases to employees with two years on the job, and maintaining fully-paid health benefits.

The contract also brings up the wages of the lowest paid workers, adds paid bereavement leave, gives special raises for over 40 classifications, expands “no discrimination” provisions to cover gender identity and other protected groups under state or federal law, and other progressive advancements. It also holds the line against attempts to cut salaries of state custodians and makes contracting out state services more difficult.

A strong union negotiating team made raising the pay of the lowest-paid state workers a major goal. Under the new contract the base pay cannot be less than the state food stamp eligibility rate for a family of three. It’s also notable that Oregon is one of only four states with fully paid public employee health coverage. A rank-and-file negotiating team headed by elected union member-leaders and Leslie Frane, the local’s progressive executive director, brought home this win.

Local 503 has also won recent victories with adult foster care and nursing home workers.

SEIU has joined the Oregon-based farmworker union PCUN (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United) in filing suit against the Department of Homeland Security, charging that through recent increases in fees charged by Citizenship and Immigration Services, the department has overstepped its role and created illegal barriers for immigrants applying for citizenship.