Weekly roundup: WeWork bans meat; Nike advances pay equity; toll group convenes

Linda Baker
WeWork co-working space, downtown Portland

The OB take on a few of the top news stories this past week.

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I read with interest the story about co-working startup WeWork banning meat from the company expense account. The policy has attracted a good amount of ridicule from pundits on the left and the right. The prohibition does seem good fodder for a SNL skit, and of course there is something big brotherish about a CEO dictating employee food choices. 

But the announcement also suggests companies are picking up the slack as the federal government rolls back regulations intended to protect consumers, human health and the environment. OregonLive ran a story yesterday on Oregon’s endangered species that coincided with Trump Administration proposals to gut the Endangered Species Act. A string of similar policy reversals has set in motion a chess game of sorts: the government announces a rollback, and the private sector announces a roll forward. WeWork’s meat ban (instigated for environmental reasons, according to co-founder Miguel McKelvey) is not so much a Portlandia skit as a sign that businesses are crafting a new quasi-regulatory structure of their own, even if the new shadow regulations are subject to the whims of the CEO. Who’s to say another CEO won’t decide to ban vegetables from the company account? 

But executives are also at the mercy of their workers. Nike will give thousands of workers raises in a bid for pay equity, the Portland Business Journal reported yesterday.  The announcement comes after employee complaints forced the ouster of multiple Nike executives, who were accused of workplace discrimination. The apparel giant’s move may also be propelled by the Equal Pay Act, the pay equity law the Oregon legislature passed last year. The law creates new obligations and areas of liability for Oregon employers, and prohibits pay discrimination on the basis of protected class, defined as race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation. 

More Nike news. In another example of the cat-and-mouse relationship between government regulation (or deregulation) and the private sector, Nike (along with Columbia Sportswear and the Portland Timbers and Thorns) has come out against Initiative Petition 22, a ballot measure that would rescind Oregon’s sanctuary status. The sanctuary law prevents police from enacting federal immigration rules. The measure made it onto the November 2018 ballot.

It’s all rivers all the time.  Last week OB research editor Kim Moore reported on efforts to redevelop the Willamette Falls property in Oregon City. A week earlier she wrote this article about a wholly original sustainable ag and tourism plan capitalizing on the John Day river. Now comes the news that OMSI has selected venerable firm Gerding Edlen to develop museum-owned property on the Central Eastside. Here’s wondering if the plan will fare better than Zidell Yards. The South Waterfront development collapsed a couple of weeks ago after the city and the Zidells failed to come to an agreement about city financing for the project.

It’s been a banner year for Portland startups. Beaverton software maker RFPIO Inc.  is the latest cup to runneth over. The company has landed a $25 million investment from K1 Investment Management LLC, according to a release.

The Dalles-area Substation fire is contained, but multiple fires continue to burn in Southern Oregon.

And finally: The not-so-sexily named toll industry group, the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, is hosting a summit in Portland today, just as the debate over tolls on Oregon freeways heats up.  The state is considering a congestion pricing scheme that would impose tolls on I -5 and I-205. If the project goes forward, the plan would be a crowning example of a public private partnership, in which private interests cooperate with government on a solution to one of the region’s most pressing social, environmental and economic problems. The scheme would also give the region some of its transportation innovator mojo back, as it would be one of the first in the country to use tolls as a solution to traffic congestion.

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