On January 3rd, Portland City Council betrayed the front-line workers of the city who have kept Portland running during the COVID pandemic. City Council voted to repeal the COVID state of emergency, put in place earlier in the pandemic, which allowed for mandatory hazard pay for workers. In the same breath, they voted to reinstate a mask mandate in the city. This is a clear recognition of the continued public health crisis due to COVID-19, while removing basic support for workers who’ve hardly been able to keep their heads above water due to rising costs of necessities in the city. With the removal of hazard pay, Portland workers being paid minimum wage faced a sharp pay cut of $6.50/hour beginning on January 13th. This is an affront not just to the workers of Portland, but to workers nationally. With hazard pay, Portland had the highest minimum wage of any city in the country at $19.50/hour, serving both to support workers struggling through the pandemic, and as an example nationally of a minimum wage that we can fight for.
The city’s consistent efforts to curb hazard pay is a clear attempt to push the costs and risks of the pandemic onto workers. Businesses big and small have always pushed a ‘return to normal’ response to the pandemic. However, this ‘normal’ means unlivable wages, a worsening housing crisis, and unimaginable costs for basic healthcare. The workers of Portland – previously lauded as front-line heroes in the early days of the pandemic – are now expected to accept a massive pay cut in the name of protecting the bottom lines of their bosses. The same bosses who, in many cases, threatened to cut hours and fire workers if hazard pay was kept in place.
The workers of Portland are not expendable, and our fight isn’t over. We must organize and fight back to demand the re-institution of hazard pay for the duration of the pandemic, and a living wage for all workers going forward. We must involve our unions in the struggle for a fairer system for all. The pandemic has brought to light the existing housing, healthcare, and education crises in the city and beyond – which have only been ignored and worsened through the actions of City Council. It will take collective action from workers, the people who truly make this city run, to have our needs and demands met. Local unions, as well as unorganized workers and students, can organize a campaign to fight for the re-institution of hazard pay. This campaign needs to rely on proven working class tactics – job actions such as walkouts, pickets, and strikes, as well as rallies and marches. The working class of Portland can fight for what we need, and win – not just the defensive re-institution of hazard pay, but for other needs going forward as well. Workers in Portland need solutions to the housing crisis, skyrocketing costs of education, and barriers to healthcare.
- Reinstate hazard pay of $20 an hour and guarantee no loss of hours or jobs.
- For unions to organize a campaign to demand hazard pay be reinstated, using rallies, marches, and job actions including walkouts, pickets, and strikes.
- Provide free and accessible COVID testing, masks, and effective PPE for all workers.
- Mass investment in the construction of new, high quality public housing, paid for by taxing the rich and big business. All public housing to be managed by democratically elected committees of residents.
- Workers, unions, and activists should organize mass rallies, workplace actions, and a nationwide movement for universal high quality healthcare.