More Than Half the Portland City Employees Who Took Bereavement Leave in the Wake of George Floyd’s Death Work for the Police Bureau

Mayor Ted Wheeler offered the paid leave to city employees as a time to “grieve and reflect.”

Portland police officers make an arrest along North Lombard Street on June 30, 2020. (Dylan Van Weelden)

More than half of the city of Portland employees who've taken advantage of a new city bereavement leave policy—meant to provide a "time to grieve and reflect" on the police killings of Black people—are members of the Portland Police Bureau.

Mayor Ted Wheeler announced the policy June 8.

"As a nation and as a city we continue to grieve the recent loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and others in the country and in our community," Wheeler wrote in a June 8 email to all city employees. "We acknowledge that Black employees are experiencing a collective grief and trauma coming from a culmination of oppression that is over 400 years old.

"We hear and understand that many of our employees, especially our BIPOC employees, are deeply impacted by these recent events and are hurting," Wheeler wrote. "I want to give our employees space to grieve and reflect: 40 hours of bereavement leave as allowed under [city rules]."

Since then, a total of 249 Police Bureau employees have taken bereavement leave, according to figures WW obtained through a public records request. In all, 483 city employees have taken advantage of it.

There are 1,215 employees at PPB, so 1 in 5 bureau employees have taken the leave.

That is a stark contrast to Portland Fire and Rescue, where 10 or fewer employees (or 1 in 70) have taken the leave.

Here's what the breakdown looks like:

In his June 8 email, Wheeler cited the historic nature of current events in his decision to grant the bereavement leave.

"We're witnessing a dramatic shift in our nation, one that is urgently charting the path forward for restorative justice, inclusion and understanding," the mayor wrote. "I feel tremendous responsibility, as well as tremendous privilege, to be a part of this historic movement. Thank you for walking that path with me as we continue to serve the city of Portland."

Wheeler directed managers to approve requests for bereavement leave "without question."

That same day, the city's chief administrative officer, Tom Rinehart, followed up with an email that seemed to suggest the leave was primarily meant for people of color and also noted that city employees who are taking regular furlough days were not eligible for bereavement leave. (Those who are taking furlough days are managers who are not represented by unions and some civilian unions, which means public safety union members such as police and firefighters are those most able to take the bereavement leave.)

The city's Human Resources Bureau said it does not know the ethnicity or gender of the employees who have taken the leave and expressed no opinion as to whether the leave was being used as Wheeler hoped.

"The city is unable to determine whether the policy is being used differently than expected, as we cannot differentiate between employees who are taking bereavement leave as a result of Mayor Wheeler's recognition of recent tragedies across the nation and those who are taking bereavement leave as a result of death in the family," said Natasha Eberth, assistant to HR director Cathy Bless.

"Some staff may be taking bereavement leave as a result of deaths due to the COVID-19 health crisis. The city's tracking system does not distinguish the type of tragedy for which an employee may need to take leave."

Eberth also said the city has not assigned a cost to the leave taken because the workers were not replaced by other workers.

Representatives for Wheeler and PPB did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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