Construction workers rally lawmakers for jobs

SALEM — Oregon workers and their families, frustrated by months of unemployment and angered by recent abuses of state-subsidized enterprise zone laws that allow out-of-state workers to take Oregon jobs, took their message to lawmakers at the State Capitol Aug. 5.

Several-hundred laid-off construction workers came to the State Capitol with a simple message: “Hire Oregon First!”

The rally was triggered by Georgia-Pacific’s use of a non-union contractor who imported low-wage, out-of-state workers to install new machinery for a plant expansion at its Wauna mill in Columbia County. The expansion was made possible through a multi-million-dollar tax break from the state.

“When a company comes to our state and asks our elected officials for tax breaks and other perks in exchange for locating in Oregon, we need to make sure that taxpayers aren’t getting the shaft,” said Grant Zadow, business manager of Portland-based Electrical Workers Local 48, which is experiencing nearly 40 percent unemployment. “We’re here to send a message that we’re not going to put up with it anymore. The people who work at the Wauna mill job don’t vote. But we do vote!”

The Oregon State Building Trades Council, outraged by elected officials who dish out tax breaks, but who aren’t eager to hold contractors and corporations accountable for delivering good jobs for Oregonians, introduced a bill this session that would allow local governments to require prevailing wages be paid on taxpayer-subsidized construction projects. The bill was met with fierce resistance and failed in the Senate 16-14.

“The state wouldn’t have near the budget problems it has if they put us back to work with family-wage jobs,” said John Endicott, business manager of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290.

“We enjoy one of the best-trained and highly-educated construction industry workforces in the nation, yet we suffer the highest unemployment rate in the nation. We see no reason to hire the lowest possible rate contract workers from out of state, except pure corporate greed,” said Endicott.

Also speaking at the rally, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury said, “Why should we spend precious state resources on projects that profit and provide for people who don’t live here?”

State Representative Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, a former union president of the Portland Police Association, spoke of the plight of his daughter, a member of IBEW Local 48. “She’s only working half the time now. We need good licensed electricians on these jobs, not half-trained scabs from Idaho coming here to take her job.”

Barker said the House Democratic caucus supports labor’s effort to “Hire Oregon First.”

Another issue brought up at the rally was the awarding of a state contract to make Oregon license plates to a Canadian company — taking the work away from Portland-based Irwin-Hodson. The company had to lay off nearly a dozen workers, all members of the Graphic Communications International Union. The bid difference was about 7 percent.

“It’s time to stop exporting jobs to other states and countries,” said State Representative Diane Rosenbaum, a longtime member of Communications Workers Local 7901.

Margaret Hallock, public policy adviser to Governor Ted Kulongoski, said the administration’s top priority is economic development. Witness, she said, the governor-backed transportation bill signed two weeks ago that will fix roads and bridges and create nearly 5,000 jobs over the next 10 years. “It’s the largest public works package in 50 years in Oregon,” Hallock said.

After the G-P expansion is complete, approximately 100 workers will be hired to operate the paper machine, all of whom will be members of PACE Local 1097-B.

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