Oregon Home Care Workers Win Pathway to $15 Per Hour

On the heels of a historic ruling that home health workers are entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay protections, Oregon home health workers have secured a pay raise and will soon have a pathway to earn $15 per hour. The current base rate for home care workers is $13.75 per hour in Oregon.

Service Employees International Union Local 503 was an integral force behind the bargaining with the state, announcing that more than 20,000 Oregon Homecare workers will soon receive a pay bump to $14 per hour in January 2016, followed by an additional raise to $14.50 by February 2017. Workers who complete employer-paid training classes will receive an additional $0.50 per hour.

“It’s exciting to have an awareness of how vital training, education and refinement of skills are to our work,” Eileen Ordway, a home care worker who was also part of the SEIU bargaining team, told Public News Service.

Union members will soon vote on the measure, which also includes paid time off, state retirement options and a provision to reopen the contract in 2017 for future wage increase. 

Earlier this summer, Massachusetts became the first state to increase home care workers’ wages to $15 per hour. The $15 minimum wage movement was originated by fast food workers in major cities, but has since been adopted by workers across several industries nationwide.

New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. have already put plans in place to increase minimum wage to $15 per hour gradually. Union groups in several other states are pushing for for similar measures against opposition.   

“Some people say, oh, $15 an hour isn’t anything, but $15 an hour to us is a lot,” Phyllis Wills, an Oregon home care worker who was on the union’s bargaining team, told Public News Service. “They don’t know what $15 an hour means to us—and it means freedom.”

The Oregon union is currently facing a class action lawsuit by the Freedom Foundation, an out-of-state non-profit organization that says union membership should not be required.

SEIU Local 503 maintains that before the union was formed in 1999, most home care workers earned less than $5 per hour in base pay. 

Written by Amy Baxter