300 City Employees Won’t Have to Return to the Office Next Month

It’s another setback for city leaders as they attempt to reinvigorate a downtown still gutted by the pandemic.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced last fall that the city’s office employees would be required to return to their desks at least 20 hours a week beginning April 1.

The mandate was intended to reinvigorate the central city after much of its workforce fled during COVID-19—including the 2,950 city employees who worked from downtown offices prior to the pandemic.

But 300 city employees won’t have to show up April 1 because they qualified for fully remote work through an exemption process handled by the city’s Office of Management and Finance.

“Jobs that were approved do not require in-person contact, tools or resources, and they are not enhanced by in-person interaction with community members or other stakeholder groups such as businesses, contractors, co-workers or elected officials,” says Christine Llobregat, a spokeswoman for OMF. “Additionally, some of these positions face recurring recruitment challenges that could be addressed by modifying the in-person work requirement.”

That’s a setback for Mayor Wheeler as he tries to spur foot traffic around City Hall and other downtown offices—a part of the city that lags far behind neighborhood business districts in a return to pre-pandemic activity.

As WW reported in August, thousands of city employees have resisted the call to return to work, arguing that it’s not their responsibility to repopulate the city’s gutted downtown core. In a June 2022 letter, 70 employees—including leaders of each of the city’s 12 affinity groups representing a total of more than 1,300 city workers—said they should not be brought back to work to revitalize downtown, calling it “inappropriate and not an essential part of our job.”

“Without our input, without transparency, and by continuing top-down decision-making that devalues staff contributions,” the letter read, “we fear the city will continue to support racist, ableist, and sexist policies, the very systems of oppression we want to dismantle.”

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