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Sept. 16, 2021

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Four Oregon businesses issued more than $44,000 in fines for ‘willful’ coronavirus violations

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PORTLAND — The state of Oregon announced Monday that it fined four businesses a combined $44,600 in May for what the state considers “willful” violations of state regulations meant to protect workers from COVID-19.

Three of the four businesses have already indicated they will appeal the fines, and the fourth still has the option to request an appeal.

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health administration, known as Oregon OSHA, has issued 159 citations to employers for violating COVID-19 safety requirements since the start of the pandemic. Additional citations are still pending. A total of 32 violations have been issued to employers that the state says willfully flouted rules meant to protect workers from contracting COVID-19.

Last month, Cork Cellars Wine and Bistro in Sisters was issued a $17,800 fine for willfully allowing indoor dining at a time when Deschutes County was deemed “extreme risk” for COVID-19 spread and indoor dining was banned. The restaurant has appealed the fine. In an email to The Oregonian/OregonLive, owners Tom and Jeannie Buck said: “We have a lawyer, and we look forward to our day in court.”

Last Stop Saloon in The Dalles was issued a $8,900 fine for willfully allowing indoor dining when Wasco County was still deemed extreme risk. The bar did not immediately respond to a request for comment but has appealed the fine.

Country Bakery in Halsey was issued a $8,900 penalty in May for failing to ensure that face coverings were worn inside the bakery and not posting a required “COVID-19 Hazards Poster.” Country Bakery has not yet appealed the fine, but still has time to request an appeal. The business declined to comment on the pending fine.

Last month, Portland’s Creative Woodworking Northwest Inc. was issued a $8,900 fine for willfully failing to ensure that face coverings were worn inside its millwork shop, according to the state. It has hired a lawyer and appealed the fine.

Hope Redmond, executive administrator for Creative Woodworking Northwest, said some employees had cited health concerns about wearing masks and the business had opted to respect those concerns. She said the state should have exemptions in place to respect the needs of employees who express health concerns about wearing masks.

She added that the business operates in a large manufacturing plant that allows for ample physical distancing.

“The rules are always changing with OSHA,” Redmond said. “To levy such fines on struggling businesses that are trying to stay open and support local jobs is unjust.”

Oregon OSHA announced Monday that it will lift face covering and distancing rules for businesses and other institutions when 70% of Oregon adults are at least partially vaccinated. However, the agency said it will issue citations if it finds that a business is not abiding by COVID-19 rules in place at the time of an inspection, even if the rules are eased at a later date.

To this point, the state has collected only a small portion of the fines it has issued for COVID-19 violations.

Oregon OSHA has issued 32 citations totaling nearly $600,000 to businesses that willfully disregarded COVID-19 safety regulations. All but one of those citations has been appealed so far and 30 remain tied up in the appeals process.

Of those that have appealed, only one has reached a settlement with the state so far. Kozy Kitchen in North Bend, which was issued an $8,900 fine last June for opening for indoor dining against state health restrictions, reached an agreement to have its violation downgraded from “willful” to “serious” and its fine reduced to $4,000 — less than half the original penalty.

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