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Tenderloin Housing Clinic Workers Strike in Demand for Higher Wages

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A woman speaks into a bullhorn, as people on the street behind her hold protest signs.
Tenderloin Housing Clinic staff — including case workers, janitors and maintenance and desk workers — rally for a new contract and higher wages in San Francisco on July 27, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Hundreds of employees with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC), one of the largest providers of supportive housing in San Francisco, went on a one-day strike Wednesday in a bid for higher pay.

The case managers, janitors and desk and maintenance staff that keep the clinic's single-residency occupancy (SRO) hotels running said they had reached a breaking point after eight months of contract negotiations, according to SEIU Local 1021, the union representing them.

As demonstrators stood on the picket line Wednesday, Mayor London Breed signed a $14 billion two-year budget that includes funding for modest pay raises for some city-funded nonprofit employees — a bump that many workers argue still falls far short of what they need to make a living wage.

Hattie Patterson, who has worked as a desk clerk for nine years at the Vincent Hotel, said she currently makes $19 an hour, and worries her wage won't rise at all under the current deal. She said she needs to make at least $21 an hour — which is the upper limit of the city's proposed new pay scale for workers like her.

"We just ask them for a decent wage ... so that way everyone will get a raise. No one would be left out. That's what we're fighting for," said Patterson, as she stood on the picket line.

Striking workers on a street hold signs that say 'T.H.C Greedy' and 'Living Wage Now'
Tenderloin Housing Clinic workers stand on the picket line in San Francisco on Wednesday, in a push for a new contract and higher wages. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Some workers are also calling on the city to make permanent the $5 an hour hazard-pay increase they were offered at the beginning of the pandemic, arguing that the physical and mental health risks of the job remain high.

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Many also note that the effects of low pay, burnout and high turnover has been particularly devastating for SRO residents, many of whom are dealing with trauma, mental health issues and addiction.

"Once they start opening up to someone, they come downstairs, the next day we're gone," Patterson said. "And it's because we can't afford to live here with these poverty wages."

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Randy Shaw, the clinic's executive director, said he has already offered signing bonuses, pay increases and mental health days to much of his staff. The city, he added, plans to update him next week on the additional wages he can offer janitors and desk clerks, and said the strike could have potentially been avoided if the city had updated him sooner.

"The fact that they couldn't tell us by now, when the city's budget has already been approved, is kind of ridiculous," Shaw said, urging employees to focus their efforts on pushing political leaders to offer more substantial raises.

THC is a privately run nonprofit funded almost entirely by the city. It provides housing and supportive services to over 2,000 people at multiple locations throughout San Francisco, according to its website.

But Denny Machuca-Grebe, a spokesperson with the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said the agency has made wage equity a priority in this year's budget. He said on top of wage increases, the agency has proposed increases in case management staffing in an effort to whittle down notoriously high caseloads for overburdened staff. The new proposal would translate to roughly 25 adults, or 20 families, per case manager, down significantly from the current norm.

A woman speaking into a microphone stands on the street, surrounded by protesters holding signs.
Tenderloin Housing Clinic workers stand on the picket line during a one-day strike on July 27, 2022, in a demand for higher wages. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

That would be a welcome improvement for thinly stretched THC social workers like Sam Meredith.

"The average caseload varies," he said. "I currently have 110. My friend has 85. Another has 50. The two case managers at the Mission Hotel have 150 each."

That strain, coupled with low pay, has made it exceedingly difficult to retain experienced case managers, Meredith added. And recruiting new case managers, who make a starting salary of just around $40,000 a year, he said, has been nearly impossible.

"I have co-workers calling me, texting me all the time, just in tears or just angry, saying they can't do this anymore," he said. "And I think the city or the THC (management) thinks they understand just how bad things are. But I'm not really sure they grasp just how desperate we are."

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