Braving cold gusts and the threat of rain, around 100 activists rallied in front of city hall Monday morning to send a message to the city commissioners: Stop buying products from sweatshops! (There was also some Spanish in there, but I'm as monolingual as I am glib.)
Unfortunately, Monday happened to be Presidents' Day, and the building was empty. Whoooops! Still, there was a smattering of representatives from the media, so the message is being delivered loud and clear—assuming the commissioners are listening to KBOO.
Seriously though, the Sweat-Free Campaign shouldn't be news to anyone at city hall; activists have been working the idea—an ordinance banning all city bureaus and contractors from buying goods (like uniforms) that were produced in sweatshops—since early last year, and the concept has at least majority support on city council.
So why, then, has the process taken so long? Officially, it's because the purchasing and finance bureaus are still looking into the issue, trying to determine the scope of such an ordinance, and how it would be enforced. Plus, there's the question of how much extra money such a policy would cost, and where that money would come from.
And those are reasonable problems—or at least they would be, if city council hadn't racked up a laundry list of policy changes in the past year that are far more complicated and far more costly, all without batting an eye. Like Commissioner Erik Sten's requirement that 30 percent of the Portland Development Commission's budget go to affordable housing. Or Commissioner Randy Leonard's mandate that all diesel sold in the city be five percent biodiesel. Or Commissioner Sam Adams' Equal Benefits Ordinance. Or like referring changes to the ballot that would completely upend city government—and that only took six hours of public debate.
So, the "too complicated!" excuse is bogus. If a politician wants a policy change, they can use their political strength to muscle it through—cost and complications be damned. So far, though, the sweat-free ordinance doesn't have a champion to carry it past the bureaucratic hurdles, and the result is that it's languishing in limbo. Meanwhile, the city and its contractors continue to buy products made by eight-year-old orphans.
Speaking of bogus! Astute city hall observers will remember that during the charter reform hearing two weeks ago, Mayor Tom Potter angrily told citizen volunteer Irwin Mandel to "shut up and let me talk," when Mandel disagreed with him. On Tuesday, Mandel responded by resigning his position on the Police Chief's Forum, which he was appointed to by Potter. Ooh... Snap!