• Eugene Weekly Loves You!
Share |

City Employees on Food Stamps

A 700-strong pool of part-time city employees are earning wages that barely pass federal poverty line standards. A Jan. 18 city work session has been called to address this ongoing issue. 

Eugene City Council member Claire Syrett and former EWEB commissioner Bob Cassidy have been pushing the City Council for most of 2016 to hold a work session on raising the city’s minimum wage for these temporary workers. 

Cassidy says he met a woman at a Bernie Sanders rally last year who told him she made $12 an hour after working part-time for the city of Eugene for the past 22 years.

“I tried to find out how many of them are on food stamps,” Cassidy says. “They get food stamps by the federal government because that’s poverty line. We are paying poverty wages when we pay this kind of thing.”

Food stamps are also known as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

After researching this particular category of city employees (non-union, typically classified as “temporary” workers), Cassidy says he discovered the majority make between $11.50 and $13.50 an hour, working part-time hours. 

Mayor-elect Lucy Vinis, who will be sworn in Jan. 4, says she is in favor of raising the wage. 

“I’ll be interested to hear the data — how many employees need to get a raise and what the implications are for the city budget,” Vinis says. She points out that there are different types of “part-time” employees, such as a college student working as a lifeguard versus someone trying to support a family. 

Long-time City Council member Betty Taylor also said she is in favor of increasing the minimum wage for temporary city workers. 

“A lot of us have been pushing for it for a long time. I just think it’s the right thing to do. Some years ago we tried to get a living-wage ordinance passed. [There was] not enough support,” Taylor says. 

Examples of temporary city employees include some of the staff at the Eugene Public Library or the Eugene parks department. 

Oregon’s minimum wage already jumped 50 cents this year in July, going from $9.25 to the present $9.75 an hour. The Oregon House Committee pushed this increase as the first in a series of minimum wage increases over the next six years; by 2020, Oregon’s standard minimum wage will be $12 an hour. 

With the most recent 50-cent increase, Oregon now has the fourth highest minimum wage of all 50 states (D.C. has the highest at $10.50 an hour and Georgia and Wyoming have the lowest at $5.15), according to InsideGov, a government research organization. 

Janet Bauer, policy analyst with Oregon Center for Public Policy, said the recent change to Oregon’s minimum wage was a victory for Oregon’s working class population. 

“It provides real support to workers, especially those who are lower paid. It helps them take care of their families by helping them meet their basic needs. Those families spend in the economy and so it helps local economies throughout the state,” Bauer says. 

Oregon continues to struggle with a widening income gap between higher and lower income classes because Oregon’s economy is growing more quickly in recent years, she adds. The new minimum wage increases may help curb that problem, even just a little, for low-income households. 

Cassidy, in the meantime, says he’s been inviting people to come speak at the upcoming Eugene City Council work session (which was recently moved from Dec. 12 to Jan. 18). Cassidy ran for Eugene mayor in this past election season and advocated for a wage increase for city workers as part of his platform. 

“We are paying people to service us and they are on the verge of financial collapse. They have no savings,” he added. Cassidy said he got the number of 700-some temporary employees from an email with a city staff person earlier this year.