Union bargains 14 percent pay increase for rural workers in government-subsidized childcare

After years of bargaining, childcare providers working in rural Oregon will get double-digit pay raises in the new year.

The union representing them, Service Employees International Union Local 503, said the rural workers will see a 14 percent wage increase, on top of a 5 percent cost-of-living increase to all providers.

The agreement came after negotiations with the state Department of Human Services, which oversees the Employment Related Day Care program. The program provides government-subsidized childcare for low-income parents.

“I would characterize it as a huge difference. Every time we have gone to the table, this is something that we have fought for,” said Natalie Jackson, a care worker in Ashland who participated in the bargaining. Jackson said she has fought for decent pay for six years.

The pay deal levels out wages across the state. Previously, the state paid three wage scales, depending on whether workers were in urban, metro or rural areas.

 “Women who did the same jobs were being paid differently,” Jackson said. “To me, it never made sense.”

The state now will pay only two scales – one for urban areas and one for the rest of the state.

The union made one of its organizers who worked on the contract available for an interview, but she declined to speak for the record. The organizer didn’t know how many caregivers are receiving the pay increase, what the average wage increase would be or whether the lower wages has resulted in fewer childcare providers in rural Oregon.

“Raising wages for child care providers helps reduce turnover, and that is critical to improving the quality of care that kids receive,” Ben Morris, SEIU 503 spokesman, said in an email. “We’re very excited that providers in every part of the state, but especially in rural areas, are going to see a wage increase.”

Morris couldn’t provide details on how many workers are covered or what the hourly wages are, but did say there are 1,800 workers in the program.

Jackson said childcare workers throughout the state were surveyed, with the results showing strong support for increased pay for rural workers. That, she said, made the difference with the state.

Reporter Aubrey Wieber: [email protected] or 503-575-1251. Wieber is a reporter for Salem Reporter who works for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of EO Media Group, the Pamplin Media Group, and Salem Reporter.