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Oregon to Stop Paying Commuting Costs for Remote Workers

Starting in September, the state will end the controversial practice of paying for remote state government employees’ travel to mandatory meetings. It’s unclear if the decision will impact pre-pandemic work policies.

oregon Gov. Tina Kotek
Gov. Tina Kotek on Monday announced she wants to end Oregon's pandemic-era policy of paying for remote workers living in other states to travel back to Oregon for required in-person meetings.
Dave Killen/TNS
(TNS) — Taxpayers could stop picking up the tab for remote state government workers living in distant states to travel back to Oregon for mandatory meetings starting in September.

Gov. Tina Kotek on Monday announced she will end the controversial practice, which was initiated by her predecessor and fellow Democrat, Kate Brown, during the pandemic when the state workforce made a large shift to remote work. That allowed some existing Oregon government employees to move to other states, including states without income taxes, and it made it possible for job candidates already living outside Oregon to get hired as remote workers.

However, a spokesperson for the union that represents the largest share of state workers said on Monday that Service Employees International Union Local 503 wants the state to make an exception for workers who made decisions on where to live based on the state’s pandemic-era travel policy.

“As we testified, our concern is for employees who made life decisions, like moving out of state, based on a policy and an understanding that they are remote workers and are not expected to be in the office,” union spokesperson Pati Urias said in a statement Monday. “We hope that this new policy does not change the expectations workers had when they were approved for remote work by their managers.”

It was not immediately clear whether Kotek’s order to reinstate Oregon’s pre-pandemic policy for remote work travel would preclude state agencies from continuing to pay for certain employees living in far-flung states. A spokesperson for Kotek, Elisabeth Shepard, said she did not know the answer and referred questions to the Department of Administrative Services. Spokespeople for that agency could not immediately be reached for answers.

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill last month that would prohibit government agencies from charging taxpayers for remote out-of-state workers to commute back to Oregon for required in-person meetings. Senate Bill 853 was scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday in the House Committee on Emergency Management, General Government and Veterans but the hearing was canceled. A legislative analyst said the hearing was canceled because lawmakers had prioritize other bills that must be voted out of committee by Tuesday to move forward. The remote worker travel reimbursement bill is not subject to that deadline since it already passed the Senate.

Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, of Bend, spearheaded the bill after Willamette Week and other news outlets reported last year that taxpayers were picking up remote workers’ travel costs.

“Sponsored by all 30 Senators and over half of the House, SB 853A is not only bipartisan, but the right thing to do,” Knopp said in a statement. “I appreciate the Governor joining us in our effort to end this unfair and wasteful policy.”

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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