Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Oregon bill would give many healthcare workers and other one-time payments

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The bill would set up two types of payments. One would give up to $2,000 to workers who stayed on with employers during the pandemic. No payments would go to anyone who earned more than $82,500 in base pay last year. The other type of payment would be return-to-work incentive cash for currently unemployed essential workers who start new jobs after June 30. 

“A lot of essential workers are low paid or not very well paid, and many of them their employers didn’t compensate them very well,” said Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, one of the chief sponsors of the bill. “It’s a way to say ‘Thank you’ and recognize the work and the risk that they took.” Many Health Workers Could Benefit

The bill has 25 other regular sponsors. They are primarily Democratic lawmakers, but include three Republican legislators: Reps. Kim Wallan of Medford and Jack Zika of Redmond; and Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend. Unions and other groups that represent health care and other front-line workers widely support the bill.

The two other chief sponsors are Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-Tualatin/West Linn and chair of the House Health Care Committee; and Rep. Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland.  The bill was sent to the Rules Committee and still needs a vote to move forward for a floor vote, as the Legislature enters the waning days of the session.

The effect of the bill on health care workers would be mixed. Many, such as experienced registered nurses, earn more than the program’s proposed ceiling. However, many other hospital workers, such as certified nursing assistants, food service workers and cleaning staff, would likely qualify for the aid. Health care workers in the long-term care homes, such as nurse aides and home health care workers, would also likely benefit due to their low pay. “Frontline workers risk their own health and safety to keep Oregon running,” said Lynda Pond, a registered nurse and president of the 15,000-member Oregon Nurses Association. “Starting our recovery with essential workers shows we care about the people who care for us. Essential worker pay puts Oregon’s working families first.”

The bill is being pushed by labor unions across all industries in Oregon. Front-line workers muscled freight on loading docks, stocked grocery store shelves, delivered packages and kept hospitals open — all while coming into regular contact with the public.  “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Oregon’s essential workers have carried us through uncertain and challenging times,” said Graham Grainor, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, which represents more than 300,000 workers in the state across different industries. “And since the beginning of the 2021 Oregon Legislature, Oregon’s unions have demanded that these same essential and frontline workers, who are often disproportionately workers of color and women, have the safety, respect, and compensation they deserve. It is well past time to stand with those who have not just stood by us, but have done so while making an extraordinary sacrifice.”  The bill sets out the workplace circumstances that would make the worker eligible for the money, for example being in regular close physical proximity to others, such as employees, customers or patients.

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