© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

Standing Up for Our Essential Workers

As chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, I take much responsibility for what happens with the county, its residents and its employees.

The governor’s most recent COVID related mandates drew my attention because of their potential impacts on the hard-working people who help us provide services to every man, woman and child in Clackamas County. Of particular concern was the impacts on our brave public safety employees and our heroes in the health care sector.

I wanted to have a strong resolution from the Board of County Commissioners to present to the governor at a meeting she had scheduled with county board chairs from throughout the state. Our board spent two weeks working on it and we came up with a draft resolution.

Having received input from my fellow commissioners, I put the draft resolution on the agenda for the Board of County Commissioners’ Business Meeting held on September 23. My fellow commissioners had ample opportunities to submit any changes they wanted to see well in advance of that meeting.

The resolution simply and clearly stated the county’s determination to continue having its public health department offer free and accessible COVID vaccinations to anyone who wants them. It also requested that the state reevaluate the terms of the vaccine mandate to consider all options that could prevent further exhaustion and departure of core public service providers. That includes an extension of the deadline for those employees to be fully vaccinated, regular COVID tested, religious and medical exemptions and recognition of effective, proven technologies in the workplace.

It also states the board’s determination to advocate the state legislature to allow for the easy transferrable licensure agreements between sates for healthcare providers. The resolution also urged the governor to engage in listening sessions with the business community and public to hear directly about these workforce issues.

In short, the intention of those resolution was to express the board’s support for policies that can keep first responders and medical personnel on the job.

Commissioner Paul Savas had offered up the language in the revised draft. On the day of the meeting, I stated my support for the resolution and the reasons why it is necessary. Some sectors of our workforce are feeling overwhelmed, and we need to do everything we can to keep those professionals from leaving their positions. They’ve been our heroes for the last year and a half, and we must offer solutions to mitigate the impacts on our service delivery system.

I felt, and still feel, that extending the deadline was reasonable. A similar extension was given to state employees, so it made sense to me that county workers should receive the same courtesy. It was also important to me that the sheriff’s office deputies who work at our jail have basic workplace protections.

The audience members in attendance expressed their clear support for the resolution.

A motion was made to adopt the resolution, and it was seconded. But even though they had weeks to make any changes they wanted to see, some of my fellow commissioners backed down from supporting it at the last minute.

One objected to the use of the word “mandate.” Another said that he couldn’t support the resolution, which he himself largely wrote, unless the vote would be unanimous. This was nothing but a pure political cop out.

I stated that throughout the process, I gave in and compromised and didn’t see the willingness of other commissioners to do the same.

The resolution didn’t pass, and the board lost a critical opportunity to stand up for its most essential workers.

However, this disappointing setback will not deter me from seeking ways to continue doing so as the board’s chair.

Honoring our Health Care Heroes

There’s no doubt that the past year and a half has been a challenging time. Countless families around the world have either fought off illness or had relatives succumb to the deadly COVID virus.

Health care professionals like nurses have been on the front lines of that battle nonstop since the pandemic first hit the United States in the spring of 2020. They put on their scrubs for every shift they’ve worked, knowing full well that they could be exposed through direct contact with COVID positive patients.

Even prior to the pandemic hitting, the health care industry had struggled filling positions in key areas, including nursing. Because of the long shifts and demanding physical tasks that nursing entails, it takes a particular type of dedicated individual to devote themselves to this line of work.

The general public has heavily praised our brave nurses for their work during the pandemic. There has never been any doubt that they are absolutely essential.

So imagine the surprise of nurses everywhere when they were told that they would be fired from their jobs if they weren’t vaccinated by a certain date. Many felt understandably betrayed, and several have decided to leave the health care field altogether.

Nurses aren’t alone in being targeted by top-down mandates that threaten their livelihoods and abilities to continue providing for their families.

Like nurses, police officers have one of the most difficult jobs imaginable. Maintaining law and order, while protecting peoples’ due process, property and other rights, takes a specific type of person. That’s especially the case in the current environment, in which activists have seen fit to demonize police as Oregon’s lawmakers and legislators move the state closer to the full legalization of homelessness and drug use.

Public employees of all stripes were browbeaten into compliance with vaccine mandates. Many of the people putting them in that position were the same ones that received huge campaign contributions from the unions that represent those employees.

Even though those same unions opposed my candidacy for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners last year, I never waivered in my support for their members’ rights. I stand by each and every one of them and their ability to make their own private, informed medical decisions.

Nurses have been risking their own lives this whole time in the service of others. They’re obviously aware of the risks being either vaccinated or unvaccinated. I refuse to second guess the personal determinations of health care professionals.

Our brave police officers have put up with so much since the summer of 2020. Literally the entire world has seen what happened after Portland politicians foolishly decided to defund the police there. Violent crime is through the roof and rarely does a night go by without a shooting taking place. Given those circumstances, who on earth would anybody want to do anything to discourage anyone from waking up in the morning and putting on their police uniform?

Nurses, police officers and public employees deserve better than to be cajoled into following edicts issued by people who base all of their decisions on political calculations. I will continue to stand with them and fight for their rights, as well as yours.