Unions protest G-P's out-of-state workers

WAUNA, Ore. — Over 100 union members took to a freeway overpass here July 3 to protest the use of non-union construction workers from outside Oregon at a taxpayer-subsidized Georgia-Pacific paper mill expansion project.

In the construction of a new machine that will make tissue paper, some work is being performed by union workers. But the electrical work and pipefitting are non-union, with many workers from out-of-state, provoking the ire of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48 and United Association of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290. The two unions have between them over 1,500 unemployed members who could have performed the work.

“This was a big blow,” said Local 48 Business Representative Joe Esmonde. “This was going to put a lot of our guys to work.”

Adding to their anger is the fact that the project gets a $12 million tax break through the State of Oregon’s Enterprise Zone program, intended to create well-paying jobs in economically hard-hit areas like Wauna, 25 miles southeast of Astoria.

Once the new machine starts up in 2004, it will mean the addition of 110 new jobs, which under the stipulations of the tax-break deal must pay at least $41,500 a year. The workers will be represented by Paper, Allied Industrial, Chemical and Energy International Union (PACE) Local 8-1097, as are 850 workers at the mill currently.

In return, the company pays no property taxes on the expansion for three to five years. That amounts to about $100,000 tax subsidy per job.

But the Enterprise Zone agreement has no wage requirements during the construction phase, and union leaders say the workers on the project are making substandard wages — as little as half the union wage and benefits — for the same work.

The controversy has prompted the Oregon State Building Trades Council to push the Oregon Legislature to add the construction phase to the law creating Enterprise Zone tax breaks.

Their points also won the sympathy of Clatsop and Columbia county commissioners, who wrote a letter to Georgia-Pacific asking the company to hire local construction workers. U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer met with workers in Northeast Portland as they got on buses heading to the July 3 rally in Wauna, and State Senator Joan Dukes spoke at the rally. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden also wrote to the company.

“Georgia-Pacific traipsed all over the country to find non-union workers to bring them in — in a very hard-hit area,” Wyden told a gathering of labor leaders earlier the morning of the rally.

Esmonde said all past construction at the mill — under previous owners — was done by union contractors. Union contractors bid on this project as well, but some of the work was awarded to contractors like Colorado-based TIC, with which building trades unions have been in conflict for over a decade.

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