A group of Portland residents has begun gathering signatures for a referendum that would change the city’s hazard pay law that has been in place since 2022.

Milena Germon, an organizer with the Independent Socialist Group, holds a sign advocating for hazard pay for essential workers in Portland at a rally at Portland City Hall in Feb. 2022. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer, file

Currently, employers are required to give minimum wage workers hazard pay, which represents a 50% increase from $15.00 to $22.50 per hour, anytime the governor declares a state of emergency.

However, a petition that has been submitted to the city clerk seeks to amend the law so that hazard pay goes into effect only when the city of Portland declares a state of emergency. Supporters are still gathering the 1,500 signatures necessary to force a citywide vote, but some were seen outside polling places on Tuesday.

The organizers behind the petition did not respond to interview requests Wednesday.

Twice in the past year, the state – but not the city – has declared a state of emergency, triggering hazard pay for employees in Portland. Under the proposed amendment, the mayor would have to declare a state of emergency in order for Portland employees to receive hazard pay.

“I think it makes a lot of sense,” said Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Nobody is trying to do away with the hazard pay ordinance, we’re just trying to make sure there is a direct correlation between the increase in the minimum wage and an actual hazard posed to employees if they are going to work.”


Quincy Hentzel, president and chief executive officer of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Hentzel herself was not involved in starting the petition, but she and the chamber support the change. She said she has heard from child care providers, in particular, who have struggled to pay their employees hazard pay during emergencies that have had little to no impact on Portland.

The state has declared weather-related emergencies in recent years, but the city has not declared a state of emergency since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s really difficult for businesses, looking at the last few states of emergency, if there’s not an impact in Portland, there just is not rationale to be paying $22.50 as the minimum wage,” Hentzel said. “I think there will be a lot of support because this is a very rational change.”

Portland’s hazard pay was instituted in 2022 after it passed through citizen referendum in 2020. It survived a court challenge in 2021.

The petition still needs to collect more signatures to make it onto the ballot. Should it receive enough support, the issue will go to voters on the November ballot.

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