Workwear for worrisome streets


It’s a sign of the times: On Feb. 21, 38 workers who maintain City of Portland sewage infrastructure received new city-issued workwear: bulletproof vests.

The vests were distributed upon request to workers at the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) who can be called up 24-7 to maintain wastewater pump stations, which are sometimes located in out-of-the way areas. The unit includes millwrights who are members of Laborers Local 483 and electricians and instrument technicians represented by IBEW Local 48.

The City of Portland purchased the vests after workers raised concerns about their safety. Crew members have had their city trucks broken into while they’re at work in the pump stations, said IBEW Local 48 representative Mark Hinkle. And workers found bullet marks at a pump station on Northeast Airport Way and a dechlorination facility on Hayden Island.

“Since the pandemic, things have really changed,” Hinkle said. City workers are seeing more anger and aggression.

Millwright Will Tucker, a union steward with Laborers Local 483, said he and his co-workers are often on their own when they approach pump stations — like one at Southeast 83rd and Harney that’s next to a homeless encampment where cars are stripped of parts in broad daylight. BES crews have been threatened with guns and knives, Tucker told the Labor Press, but they’re barred by city policy from carrying any weapons to defend themselves, even pepper spray. 

Portland may be “The City That Works,” as its slogan says, but it doesn’t always work quickly. Workers’ initial request for vests in 2022 went nowhere. So union members brought it up again last year at a monthly meeting with City Commissioner Mingus Mapps. Mapps oversees BES, and his staff made sure the vest idea moved forward as a pilot effort. 

The vests are custom-made, and workers were fitted for them last summer. But delivered in November, they sat in a BES security manager’s office for months while City of Portland attorneys and HR raised objections: If the city issued vests to these workers, would the union use that as an argument for hazard pay? Hinkle and Local 483 rep James O’Laughlen assured the city labor relations managers that wasn’t the plan, and with more help from Mapps’ staff, the vests were released.

The vests don’t have the look of riot police armor, but instead are meant to resemble yellow safety vests. The ballistic plates inside are flexible and are effective against knives and smaller caliber bullets. Tucker and his coworkers don’t have to wear them all the time but will have them as an option when heading out to a location that feels unsafe.

“My wife wants me wearing it,” Tucker said.


  1. Joseph H Roosevelt Christ! what has life become now where some peoples inept ability to value life over a “right” they think they have to fetishize fire arms has become standard? Instead of removing the weapon that kills, we just try and pad the issue with a band aid and hope for the best! This is just insane and inhumane.

    • Get the ‘weapons that kill’ out of the hands of the criminals that kill and put the criminals that kill off the streets and put them in prison where they belong. Leave the law abiding gun owners alone.


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