Some 300 workers from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic are on strike today, demanding an increase in wages.
“No contract, no peace,” the crowd shouted outside the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Services offices along Turk Street this morning. After eight months of contract negotiations, many said they felt “pushed” to strike because of a lack of clarity around pay raises.
The Tenderloin Housing Clinic is a property management nonprofit that maintains approximately 2,000 affordable units throughout 24 buildings in the city, mainly for formerly homeless tenants. It maintains five in the Mission, including San Francisco’s largest SRO, Mission Hotel. The nonprofit received more than $33 million in city funding last fiscal year to provide housing for some of the city’s hardest-up denizens, and to provide services such as case management.
Currently, job listings on the clinic’s website put the hourly pay for desk clerks and janitors at $17.34 (around $36,067 annually), and $20.92 for (around $43,514 annually) case workers. Minimum wage in San Francisco is $16.99 (around $33,980 annually).
Andria Blackmon, a case worker for the nonprofit, said that she wanted a return to the wages seen from July, 2020, to March, 2021, when every employee got an extra $5 per hour in Covid-19 hazard pay. Blackmon, who has had four supervisors during her two-and-a-half years in the job, said that an increase would help ensure good services for tenants, improve workers’ quality of life, and reduce turnover.
“We’re really struggling. You know, we’re borrowing money from each other, we’re giving each other rides,” said Blackmon. “We just seem to always end up short.”
Emmanuel White, a desk clerk, said that wages were currently too low, considering how hard it is to deal with problematic tenants and given the qualifications workers brought to their roles.
“You’ve got a case manager making $20 an hour, with a degree, but you’ve got people at McDonald’s making maybe $18 an hour with no degree,” said White. “Yeah, that just don’t seem right.”
According to Indeed.com, the typical salary for a case manager in San Francisco is $25.43 per hour, significantly higher than the nonprofit’s case workers.
The lion’s share of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic’s funding comes from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Randy Shaw, founder and executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said that he agrees that his workers should have an across-the-board pay raise, but that raises are dependent on the funding received from the department.
“This has all come down to what the department decides,” said Shaw. He added that the $5 per hour wage increase had not been discussed at prior negotiations, but that he had advocated for the supportive housing department to nail down their proposed wage rises as soon as possible, and to make them as high as possible.
The latest proposals would see desk clerks paid $19 to $21 per hour, janitors paid $20 to $22 per hour, and case workers paid somewhere between $25 and $28 per hour. The new ranges for some jobs, such as those involved in transitional housing, have not yet been clarified, leading to worries that some workers might be left behind in negotiations.
Evan Oravec, a community organizer for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and SEIU 1021 chapter president, said that anything less than locking in the upper limits of these ranges would be “disrespectful and show that they’re not taking this problem seriously.”
“The system, with our pay as low as it is, is falling apart,” said Oravec. “With inflation as high as it is, you’re seeing high turnover rates, high job vacancy rates, burnout. It’s very common for workers to have multiple jobs, and to commute from as far out as Antioch or Sacramento.”
“We voted to strike in May, and we were really hoping that that would send a signal to the city and the Tenderloin Housing Clinic that we need real change,” he added. “But unfortunately, we’ve reached this point.”
In May, workers voted 99 percent to authorize their SEIU 1021-affiliated bargaining team to call for a strike if progress was not made.
Some workers at today’s rally felt that the Tenderloin Housing Clinic management had not advocated strongly enough for wage increases. Blackmon noted that despite Shaw saying they should work together to get more money from the city, he had been absent from the Budget Committee hearing attended by the union: “It just seemed like empty words.”
In a press release, SEIU 1021 spokesman Andrew Baker said that the Tenderloin Housing Clinic management put forward “a number of proposals aimed at undermining their employees’ union rather than addressing workplace issues” at the start of negotiations. Those proposals, since dropped, would have meant less union involvement in disciplinary matters and would have made “insubordination” an immediately fireable offense.
After rallying at Turk Street, workers marched on to City Hall. Many seemed cautiously optimistic that higher wages will be secured by the union, but worried that a slight rise might not have much of an impact.
“I think that the reality that people in this building sometimes miss,” said District 5 Supervisor (and ex-Tenderloin Housing Clinic tenant defense lawyer) Dean Preston, motioning towards City Hall, “is that you are one paycheck away from being in the same position as the clients and the people you are fighting every day to help.”