Politics focus of building trades convention

BEND — The high-stakes impact the upcoming presidential election will have on construction workers was a major topic of discussion at the 43rd annual convention of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council Aug. 24-27.

“It’s the most important election of our lifetimes,” said Tim Nesbitt, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, referring to the presidential election between George W. Bush and John Kerry. “I don’t want to imagine what it would be like (for labor) with four more years of Bush/Cheney.”

Nesbitt handed out an America@Work “Special Report” outlining the issues and records of Republican President Bush and Kerry, the Democratic nominee. In it, the report illustrates how living-wage jobs could be impacted by who is elected president.

The report says President Bush opposes the Davis-Bacon Act and believes U.S. prevailing wage laws are “wasteful” and “fraudulent.”

By Executive Order, Bush banned project labor agreements on all construction projects that receive federal funds and earlier this year he threatened to veto the fiscal year 2005 highway construction bill unless Congress slashed it by $55 billion — which would cost more than 2.3 million family-wage jobs.

Since taking office in 2000, Bush cuts to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have slashed the number of construction worksite safety inspections. In 2002, the construction trades recorded the highest-ever number of on-the-job deaths, as recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Kerry, on the other hand, supports Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws and project labor agreements. He also has a plan that will create 10 million U.S. jobs by investing in the nation’s highways, bridges, schools and water systems.

“Some people say there’s not much difference between Bush and Kerry ... but there’s a huge difference between the two,” Nesbitt said. “There have been 1.1 million jobs lost since Bush took office and 9 million fewer jobs that provide health care benefits. It’s not only about losing jobs — the jobs created are paying less and have no health insurance.”

Several politicians spoke at the event, including Congressman David Wu, Governor Ted Kulongoski, State Treasurer Randall Edwards and Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner.

Wu, a Democrat with a tough race in the First Congressional District, said his Republican opponent doesn’t believe in paying prevailing wages, project labor agreements or overtime pay after 40 hours of work.

“She doesn’t want any workplace rules. The market will take care of everything,” said Wu of his opponent, Iranian-American Goli Ameri. “She thinks paying prevailing wages on federal jobs is the dumbest thing she’s ever seen,”he continued. “She thinks the new overtime pay rules are a great idea and that the market will take care of workplace safety.”

I don’t believe that,” Wu stated.

The First Congressional District race has been targeted by the Republican Party, which is pouring money into Ameri’s coffers. Wu is working hard to raised funds for his re-election, and labor unions are major supporters.

Paul Phillips of PacWest Communications said most of the political focus is on the presidential election, but key races loom in Oregon both at the congressional and local legislative levels.

Phillips believes Republicans will control the U.S. Senate and House by wider margins than they do now.

He also believes Democrats will win control of the Oregon Senate. Key races pit Democrat Joanne Verger vs. Al Pearn; Democrat Alan Bates vs. Jim Wright, and Democrat Laurie Monnes Anderson vs. Ron Sunseri. Currently the Senate is deadlocked at 15-15.

Phillips said Republicans likely will retain control of the House by a similar margin as last session, which was 35-25. The difference, said the former Republican state senator, is that “GOP control is becoming more and more conservative.”

Hot legislative issues likely to appear in 2005 include attacks on prevailing wage laws and state-funded apprenticeship training programs. “There are some who want to turn apprenticeship training over to the federal government,” Phillips said.

State Treasurer Randall Edwards praised Governor Kulongoski for his push to create jobs. He spoke specifically of a $2.5 billion bond package that will be leveraged to build and improve Oregon’s roads, bridges and highways.

“It’s a challenging time, but it’s also a great opportunity (because of low interest rates) seeding the ground for the future,” he said.

Edwards, a Democrat who is running for re-election, said the state’s tax system is broken and must be fixed or education will continue to see inadequate funding and higher class sizes.

“Just look at 1990s Ballot Measure 5 to see why K through 12 is struggling. It’s a train wreck, and we have to come to an agreement on how to fix the situation or it will continue to struggle,” he said.

The State Building Trades Council presented its annual college scholarships to Brittany Porter of Scio and Eric Gunderson of Portland. Porter, the daughter of Albert Porter III, a member of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290, received $750 sponsored by Ferguson Wellman Capital Management, and Gunderson, the son of Local 290 member Mark, received $500 sponsored by the council. Both attend Oregon State University.

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