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Ore. Staff to Get Extra Pay for In-Person Work During COVID

In Oregon, state employees who worked in person during the height of the pandemic will receive a one-time hazard payment, which can differ based on how many hours a person logged.

Oregon state capitol building
Shutterstock/Bob Pool
(TNS) — Gov. Kate Brown has agreed to award state workers who were required to report to work in person during the pandemic one-time “COVID hazard payments” of up to $1,550 under new tentative labor agreements.

All state employees who had to work in-person for at least 480 hours between March 8, 2020 and June 30, 2021 will be eligible, according to a summary of the tentative deal the state reached with SEIU 503. A member of AFSCME Council 75′s bargaining team on Tuesday confirmed that union reached the same deal.

To be eligible for the top amount, employees must have worked at least 1,040 mandatory in-person hours, the equivalent of 26 40-hour weeks. Employees who worked fewer mandatory in-person hours but met the 480-hour minimum will receive $1,050, according to SEIU 503′s online announcement of its tentative labor agreement with the state.

A state spokesperson clarified Wednesday that all state employees who meet those thresholds will be eligible for the payments, regardless of whether they are represented by a union.

During the five-month legislative session that ended in June, unions pushed hard for lawmakers to approve “essential worker” stimulus payments, and some lawmakers supported the idea.

But legislators could not agree which workers should receive the payments, so a broad proposal that would have benefitted categories of workers across the economy — including the private sector — never gained much traction. The $450 million proposal also envisioned $1,200 back-to-work incentive payments for frontline workers who collected unemployment during the pandemic. Frontline workers who stayed on the job would have received $2,000 in stimulus money, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

“State workers masked up and did their jobs through a pandemic,” SEIU executive director Melissa Unger said in an emailed statement. “Hazard pay is a recognition of the risks they took to keep essential services like food assistance, healthcare and infrastructure running.”

Under the tentative agreement AFSCME reached with the Brown administration early Tuesday morning, state employees who worked at least 200 hours of overtime during the pandemic time frame will receive an additional $575 payment.

Christina Sydenstricker Brown, a direct support specialist who cares for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with co-occurring mental health issues, is a member of AFSCME’s bargaining team. Sydenstricker Brown said she expects approximately 1,000 state employees to qualify for the additional overtime payment, including workers at the Department of Corrections, Oregon Youth Authority, state psychiatric hospital and the stabilization and crisis unit where she works.

Sydenstricker Brown said she and her coworkers played an essential role during the pandemic, donning full personal protective equipment to provide in-person care to people with special needs.

“Just working through that and the anxiety that the individuals and my peers and myself felt was stressful,” Sydenstricker Brown said. “But we did the job … We kept Oregon going through this pandemic, and we still are keeping Oregon going through this pandemic. So I just want to thank all my coworkers and all the other essential workers out there that helped keep Oregon going.”

Employees represented by AFSCME and SEIU will receive a 2.5% cost of living raise on Dec. 1 and a 3.1% cost of living raise in December 2022. Employees’ share of monthly health insurance premiums will remain at the same low level, which for the most popular plan — Providence Choice — means $19.46 a month for an employee to cover a family, with the state paying the remainder of the $1,945.92 monthly premium.

It’s not clear what percentage of state employees will be eligible for the one-time payments, nor what the total cost will be. “We are still determining final numbers of staff that would be included in the COVID-19 hazard payments,” communications director Andrea Chiapella of the Department of Administrative Services wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon. “Therefore, we don’t have accurate cost estimates at this time.”

The one-time payments will not come from a $198 million pot of money lawmakers approved to cover pay increases in 2021 through mid-2023, Chiapella said, but rather from state agency budgets.

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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