November 30, 2017

Fair Work Week and Drug Decriminalization in Oregon


This article originally appeared in the August 1, 2017 edition of the Portland Business Journal.

The 2017 Oregon legislative session adjourned indefinitely on July 7, 2017, but stayed busy until the end working on legislation that seems likely to re-emerge during the next session.  Two bills in particular—SB 828 and HB 2335 —are worth noting as a preview for the 2018 session, as they continue Oregon’s progressive approach to both labor laws and the decriminalization of controlled substances.  Both laws would keep Oregon in the national vanguard on these issues, and demonstrate the legislature’s continued willingness to depart from federal norms.


SB 828 is a so-called “fair work week” law that follows similar city-only ordinances recently passed in San Francisco, Seattle, and New York (Seattle’s own “secure scheduling law” went into effect on July 1, 2017).  The bill passed the House on June 30, 2017, too late for significant Senate debate on the current House-amended version of the bill.  SB 828 would be the first statewide law to require certain employers to provide written schedules seven days in advance of the work week and to require the payment of penalty wages for last-minute changes.  Further, employees would have to be paid time-and-a-half if required to work with less than a 10-hour break between shifts.  Finally, the bill contains explicit retaliation protections for employees who express scheduling preferences.  The law pertains specifically to any Oregon employers in the retail, hospitality, and food service industries with 500 or more worldwide employees.


Fair work week laws are promoted on the basis of an increasing recognition that inconsistent scheduling can cause great disruption in the lives of wage earners, especially those who have regular and immovable school and/or child care demands.  Fair work week advocates also push for limits on maximum days worked in a row and minimum shift lengths, though the Oregon bill does not currently address these issues.  An Oregonian editorial in support of the bill from the president of the local New Seasons Market grocery chain noted the company (who already practices some version of “fair scheduling”) has found that “when staff are well rested and have the opportunity to enjoy a stable and secure personal life, they are happier, more engaged and more productive at work.”


It appears that the legislature would grant an adjustment period to affected employers after the passage of the law.  The house version of the bill, if passed, would not have taken effect until July 2018.  Starting on July 2020, the 7-day advance schedule requirement would expand to a 14-day requirement.


In a much different area of the law, the legislature is also at work on HB 2355, which would, in certain circumstances, decriminalize hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and ecstasy.  If passed, possession of those drugs would remain a felony only if, among other things, the possessor has a prior felony conviction, two or more prior drug possession convictions, or possesses over specified amounts of the decriminalized drugs.  In addition, the law creates various anti-profiling measures.  Many states are moving toward lesser drug penalties and/or decriminalization of narcotics, and SB 2355 would follow in the footsteps of Oregon’s decriminalization of marijuana over 40 years ago in 1973.


The decriminalization of marijuana possession was, of course, a necessary first step toward the legalized sale of that substance for recreational use in state licensed and regulated dispensaries, but there is no indication here that the bill is meant to ultimately lead to a legalized market in these harder substances.  Indeed, the House staff measure summaries make clear that the bill is aimed not at normalizing the use of these drugs but reducing “collateral consequences of drug addictions that are often associated with racial disparities.”   Nevertheless, Oregon continues apace with revising its drug laws, and additional innovations, such as legalizing the use of recreational marijuana in certain public spaces, may be close around the corner.

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