Power company PacifiCorp will allow employees at its Lloyd District headquarters to continue working from home without taking pay cuts following new guidelines announced by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Friday.
PacifiCorp had previously informed employees who work at the Lloyd Center Tower that they would have to return to the office beginning Nov. 9 or take a 10% pay cut to continue working from home full-time, according to multiple emails and internal documents reviewed by The Oregonian/OregonLive. The news was first reported by Willamette Week. Approximately 1,000 employees work at the company’s Lloyd district headquarters, some of whom have already been working in the office voluntarily.
However, PacifiCorp reversed course Friday after Brown announced a two-week “pause” on social activities in five counties, including Multnomah County, and encouraged employees to continue working from home. Brown’s announcement comes as coronavirus cases are spiking in Oregon. The state has recorded more coronavirus cases over the past week than at any point since the pandemic began, including a record 805 on Thursday.
While PacifiCorp will continue to allow employees to work full-time remotely without taking a pay cut, spokesman Spencer Hall said that the company would reevaluate its timeline for bringing employees back to the office after Brown’s two-week pause comes to an end. When the company does set a date for reentry, Hall said that employees who opt to continue working from home full-time will have to take the 10% pay cut.
“The safety of our workforce and customers remains our top priority,” Hall said. “As an essential service provider, PacifiCorp has worked carefully throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to follow directives from state and local government leaders and public health officials while managing our responsibility and obligation to continue providing safe and reliable electric service.”
Stefan Bird, president and CEO of Pacific Power, the subdivision of PacifiCorp serving Oregon, California and Washington, originally announced in an internal email on Sept. 3 that employees would have to take a pay cut to continue working from home full-time once the company set a reentry date. He said in an Oct. 29 email that the company had settled on Nov. 9 as the reentry date.
Bird acknowledged the spike in cases in his Oct. 29 email, but said the company had already reintegrated some employees into the office on a voluntary or rotational basis and felt it had the right safety measures in place to bring all employees back.
That decision drew the ire of employees.
A manager who works at PacifiCorp’s Lloyd District offices said that some employees on his team were terrified of working in the office and appalled that the company would take punitive action against those who didn’t feel safe about returning. He said that some of the employees on his team had already agreed to take the 10% pay cut due to safety concerns, before the company reversed course Friday.
“People are packed in so tightly in that Lloyd Center tower that it really is like being on a cruise ship, even tighter than a cruise ship,” he said. “It just floors me that they would want all the employees to come back at a time when the cases are going up so rapidly in the county and in the state. It defies logic.”
The manager added that the company’s push to reintegrate employees into the office while the pandemic is still ongoing is especially perplexing because the company has praised the productivity of employees working from home.
Hall said that PacifiCorp recognizes that employees might be facing heightened demands and safety concerns due to the pandemic. In light of that, he said the company had offered employees alternative work arrangements, flexible schedules, personal time off, administrative leave and voluntary work from home choices. However, those that opt for the voluntary work from home option once the company asks employees to return to the office will have to take the 10% pay cut, unless they have a medical exemption.
In a separate internal document obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive, PacifiCorp told employees that “the pay decrease is considered an equitable trade off in exchange for the elimination of commute time, additional flexibility, transportation cost savings and even potential tax breaks.”
While employees that work from home may pay less for transportation, they are likely to have other increased expenses, most notably increased utility bills.
PacifiCorp serves 596,000 customers in Oregon. Its main competitor, Portland General Electric, which serves 880,000 customers, is asking employees who are able to work remotely to continue to work from home through at least June 30, 2021, according to a company spokesman. PGE employees working from home have maintained their regular pay.
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