Amid the Pandemic, Portland’s Goodwill Employees Ask: Why Are We Still Open?

The employees say vintage sweaters and antique tchotchkes aren’t “essential” purchases during a pandemic.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler may enact a stay at home order as soon as Monday, which would close all nonessential businesses in Portland and require residents to stay home "except for essential purposes."

Such a declaration would come as a relief to some of Portland's Goodwill employees, who have complained to management about working each day as restaurants, bars and fitness studios closed statewide.

Employees who spoke to WW say vintage sweaters and antique tchotchkes aren't "essential" purchases in times of a pandemic. The continued operation of the resale stores raises questions about the priorities at Goodwill Industries of the Columbia-Willamette, one of the five largest nonprofits in Portland.

Some of the nonprofit's Portland employees contacted regional managers last week to ask the stores to close temporarily and to provide the employees leave during that time.

"We would like it if you would come in and hear us out, and help explain why Goodwill isn't allowing all of its employees to take a week or two of paid time to weather this national emergency," a Goodwill employee said in an email to the company's district manager March 16. (WW obtained a copy.) "This morning several of the employees and I tried to bring up our concerns about our health and safety during this national emergency, and we were basically dismissed."

Later that week, some of the company's regional managers met with the staff to hear their concerns, according to a Goodwill employee who asked to remain anonymous for fear he could be fired if identified.

"[The manager] basically said, 'If you don't want to stay, you can take your sick time and your vacation time, and after that you cannot be paid anymore," the employee, who works at Goodwill's Woodstock location, tells WW.

"I'm just worried about my co-workers," the employee continued. "A lot of them won't stay home if they're not told to."

A Goodwill spokeswoman tells WW the employees are welcome to go home if they are feeling ill, if they're anxious, or if they have family who needs care.

"Everyone has the option to go home, firstly. Nobody is being asked to stay," says Goodwill spokeswoman Dale Emanuel. "If you're anxious, you can go home. If you have child care needs, you can go home. You can use your accrued sick pay or your vacation pay."

As for what employees can do if they are ill but don't have any more sick leave or vacation time: "That remains to be seen," says Bob Barsocchini, Goodwill's human resources director and general counsel.

He says the company has remained open to ensure employees can receive paychecks, and is monitoring the situation closely to ensure the health and safety of both workers and customers.

"We're very, very cognizant of the concern of the virus," Barsocchini tells WW. "We have not had any employee report a positive test. We are following all [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] protocols."