The 24,000 public employees represented by the Service Employees International Union 503 reached an agreement on Wednesday to a new contract with raises up to 15 percent over the next two-year budget cycle.
The deal includes larger cost of living adjustments then previous years, but some are concerned this raise in wages could, over time, weaken the controversial public pension (PERS) reforms Governor Kate Brown signed recently.
The average “step increase” in wages (automatic raises applied after a certain length of time in the job) for public employees would be 4.7 percent. There are also no increases in health insurance premiums under the current deal.
Public employees argue that their wages need to be raised to remain competitive, claiming comparable work in the private sector currently pays more. Some reporting contends this claim, citing the most recent Oregon state salary survey, which concluded that the state was a competitive employer.
The Democratic legislative majority was able to set aside $200 million to fund these raises, doubling last year’s $100 million allocation. The deal is still pending a vote by the union members themselves, and then a vote by state lawmakers.
By Ian MacRonald