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As nonprofit workers strike, Tenderloin Housing Clinic and city point fingers

Union workers hold a 24-hour rally for an increase in living wages in front of the offices of Tenderloin Housing Clinic on Turk Street in San Francisco, California, on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Employees are citing the low wages as the impetus for staffer burnout, and high turnover. | Don Feria for the Standard

On Wednesday, 300 workers at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic went on a one-day strike, the latest turn in an ongoing tug-of-war between union organizers, their employer and its main funder, the city.

The one-day strike comes after months of negotiations between Tenderloin Housing Clinic workers and their management for higher pay, according to organizer Evan Oravec, who is on the Tenderloin Housing Clinic workers’ bargaining team. But it’s unclear whether, and when, their demands will be met as workers, management and representatives of the city offer conflicting accounts of what pay raises are coming.

Striking workers, who say they earn at or below $20 per hour for some positions, described financial stress coupled with dangerous workplace conditions at Tenderloin Housing Clinic sites. Nonprofit housing workers are some of the lowest-earning employees in the city, according to a June 8 Controller’s Office report. Striking workers have demanded a $5 pay increase across all positions.

Asked about workers’ demand for the $5 increase, Tenderloin Housing Clinic Executive Director Randy Shaw said that he had not heard that particular demand before being informed by this reporter.

“We’ve never gotten that demand in writing…that’s not what I heard at bargaining yesterday,” Shaw said.

Shaw said that he supports wage increases and that he has done all he can to increase workers’ pay, and pointed the finger at the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, which partly funds Tenderloin Housing Clinic with city money. Tenderloin Housing Clinic is one of the largest providers of low-income housing in the city, with 24 sites in and around the Tenderloin.

Shaw said that the homelessness department must announce what the new minimum base wages will be for janitors, desk clerks and maintenance workers before pay increases can move forward. He told The Standard that an announcement was likely to occur next week.

“I’ve done more than anybody to get the money for the workers, but [the homelessness department] just won’t budge,” Shaw said.

But Debra Bouck, spokesperson for the homelessness department, said that she did not know of any announcement for an updated wage floor set for next week.

In an email, the department wrote that that Mayor London Breed’s two-year budget, which she signed Wednesday afternoon, allots $3 million annually to fund a $28-per-hour base rate for case workers, along with $12 million annually for likely hourly wage ranges of $19 to $21, $20 to $22, and $22 to $24 for desk clerks, janitors, and maintenance workers respectively.

Oravec said that at a minimum, workers would need to have their pay bumped to the upper end of those pay ranges as a “first step towards a living wage.”

Jeff Cretan, spokesperson for Breed, said in a text that the homelessness department has “begun the process of notifying partnering nonprofits of new or continued funding,” but that the details of how that funding rolls out is at the nonprofit’s discretion.

Oravec said that the strike is meant to show that workers are committed to fighting for higher wages, and that they hope that the city will announce a higher pay floor for nonprofit workers, after which they can continue bargaining sessions with the THC.

“What’s next is that the city will have to put the numbers on the table, meet with [Tenderloin Housing Clinic] to discuss this, and we’ll have to take it from there,” said Oravec.

SEIU Local 1021 political vice president Ramses Teon-Nichols added that the wage ranges outlined in the mayor’s latest budget are not enough to combat high worker turnover, particularly in light of inflation.

“No, it is still not enough, unfortunately,” said Teon-Nichols.